Energy bills: what to do if you can’t pay

What can you do if you’re experiencing utility bill payment difficulties?

Woman looking at unpaid bills wondering what to do when you cant pay a bill

Chances are there will be an energy bill or two hitting your mailbox sometime soon. If the thought of this fills you with more than the usual dread and you think you’ll have difficulty paying them, it’s best to act sooner rather than later. So, what can you do if you’re experiencing payment difficulties?

Gas and electricity bills often attract discounts if you have an eligible concession card, so the first thing you should do is check that your concession card is registered to your utility account and that you are receiving your full entitled discount. If you’re not entitled to a concession, or you’re still finding your bills too much to pay, then you may be able to access hardship plans offered by your retailer, or rebates and vouchers. Moneysmart.gov.au has a full list of concessions, rebates and vouchers available.

If you’re having problems paying an energy bill, you should: 

  • make contact with your supplier before your bill is due, but don’t ignore it and hope you’ll be able to pay in a couple of weeks
  • ask for assistance with strategies on how to reduce your energy and water consumption
  • your supplier must offer you a payment plan, but it’s important that you only agree to a plan you can afford to repay
  • if you can’t reach an agreement with your supplier, contact your local ombudsman, details of which can be found by clicking the link below.


Tasmania

ACT
Victoria
NSW
Northern Territory
Queensland
South Australia
WA

What you should know
If you’ve entered into a payment plan with an energy provider and made the agreed payments, you can’t be disconnected.

When you contact your energy retailer to advise of payment difficulties, it must offer you a payment plan (unless you’ve failed to keep to two plans in the last year) and advise you of its hardship program.

Hardship programs usually waive fees, such as a late payment fee, to ensure you have the best chance of paying your bill.

Disconnection process
If you don’t make contact with your energy supplier, or don’t keep to your payment plan, then your service may be disconnected. The process is:

  • your due date on your bill should be 13 days from the date the bill was issued. A first notice is usually sent after the due date
  • a second notice, or disconnection notice, is usually sent six days after the first reminder
  • before disconnection, your supplier must have made an effort to contact you in person – by phone, a visit to your home or via electronic communication
  • if you make no effort to settle your bill 25 days after it was issued, then your energy service can be disconnected.

Retailers may be required to have processes in place to help those experiencing payment difficulties, but the onus is on you to make contact. If you’re having problems making payments, don’t delay in contacting your supplier. 

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    COMMENTS

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    Old Man
    24th Mar 2017
    11:34am
    What people should realise is that most, if not all, places where money is owed would prefer not to take legal action for recovery. Legal action can create unwanted adverse publicity for the supplier/lender as they are unable to respond to any specific accusations should the debtor go public and make unfounded statements. They cannot respond specifically because of privacy laws.

    The advice to front up immediately is sound and, in most cases, will allow some payments to be accepted with the view to having the full debt repaid prior to issuance of the new account. Facing the problem early will keep the supplier/lender onside as it will reduce their workload to a degree.
    jackie
    24th Mar 2017
    2:25pm
    No Australian should be being ripped off for using the basic necessities of water, electricity and gas. I remember during the 1980s when we were lied to by our then government that privatisation would be more efficient, cheaper for everyone. Today cooking, washing and heating have become a luxury as government bodies ignore everything. The attitude of the rich is that the poor can always manage to scrounge up a dollar no matter what.
    KB
    24th Mar 2017
    1:32pm
    Please bear in mind that with payment plans energy companies ask for more than you cam automatically pay per fortnight. Just remember that you have other bills to pay. If you are struggling and want to stay on top of bills but on a limited budget then set a certain amount aside yourself. Paying per fortnightly decreases the amount you have to pay upfront.
    Old Man
    24th Mar 2017
    2:35pm
    Yes KB and I should have addressed that. If people are having a problem with one account, chances are that there are others. Rather than having the company tell what they want, it is preferable to go there with an offer of what you can afford.
    shirboy
    24th Mar 2017
    4:13pm
    I have been with AGL (an Australian company) for many years & I pay by DD every 2 weeks & their billing is easy to read & understand. For those that do not know "Energy Australia"is based in China.
    musicveg
    28th May 2017
    6:18pm
    I use Powershop and buy my power ahead of time, usually monthly, I find this great because I am never faced with a bill. Often they have special deals to buy ahead too. They support renewable energy too, check it out, use this link to receive $75 off your first bill:

    https://secure.powershop.com.au/r/lindad-svoA2d9