Electricity and gas debt
Use this information sheet if:
- you are having trouble paying your electricity or gas bill; or
- you want information about payment arrangements and your rights.
You do have rights under the Energy Retail Code or other consumer protections. If you want to apply to pay by instalments, you can see our sample letter available here.
William is a low income earner supporting his young family of four. A few months into Winter he received a gas bill of $1000. He could not afford to pay this amount by the due date because of increased costs of living and family expenses. His energy company, BUZZ electricity, is demanding he pay all of it otherwise it will disconnect him.
What should William do if he can’t pay his bill on time?
Step 1. Tell your energy company and ask for information
- You should tell the company that you are having payment difficulties.
- If you tell the company that you are having payment difficulties, it must provide you with information about rebates and concessions, including the Utility Relief Grant Scheme.
Step 2. Ask for a payment plan that you can afford
- You can apply over the phone or put your request in writing using our template letter.
- If you tell the company you are having payment difficulties, it must offer you a payment plan (such as to pay the bill in instalments) unless you have already been on two or more instalment plans in the last year and you did not stick to them.
- You also have the right to a plan that takes into account your capacity to pay (what you can afford to pay each week or fortnight), not just want the company wants you to pay.
- If the company won’t offer you an affordable plan, you can ask to see their calculations about what they think you can afford. You should check that these calculations are correct.
Step 3. Ask about the company’s financial hardship policy
- You may be entitled to assistance under the company’s financial hardship policy.
- All companies are required to have a financial hardship policy that is available on their website.
- Financial hardship policies must include flexible options for payment of bills, provisions for auditing of customer’s usage, flexible options for the purchase of replacement energy appliances, and processes for early response to payment difficulties.
- If you are complying with a financial hardship policy, you cannot be disconnected.
Step 4. Get some advice and/or financial assistance
- You can get free, confidential and independent financial counselling by contacting Money Help on 1800 007 007.
- You may be entitled to a concession on your bills if you hold a Pensioner or Health Care Card.
- Ask the company how to apply for a concession.
- You may want to apply for a once-off Utility Relief Grant (URG) to help you pay your current bill.
- Ask the company how to apply for an URG.
- The company must not disconnect you if you have applied for an URG and are waiting for a decision.
Step 5. What if the Company does not provide me with a payment arrangement?
- You can make a complaint to the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV).
- EWOV is a free and independent dispute resolution body. You can use the template letter below as the basis for your complaint along with a completed complaint form.
Warning: This fact sheet is intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. This information applies only in Victoria and reflects the law as at 31 December 2015.
Need more help?
Consumer Action Law Centre
Telephone: (03) 9629 6300,
or 1800 466 477 for country and mobile phone callers.
If you are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment, you can call through the National Relay Service (NRS):
- TTY users can phone 133677 then ask for 1800 466 477
- Speak & Listen (speech-to-speech) users can phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 1800 466 477
- Internet relay users can connect to NRS on www.relayservice.com.au then ask for 1800 466 477
Telephone: 1800 007 007
Tenant’s Union of Victoria
For caravan park and rooming house residents to obtain information on your rights under the Residential Tenancies Act
Ph: (03) 9416 2577
Department of Human Services
For information on concessions and Utility Relief Grants (URG)
Call the Concessions Unit on (02) 9616 7600 or 1800 658 521 (toll free).
Social welfare and emergency relief groups
Call the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) on (03) 9654 5050 or 1800 133 340 (toll free)
Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV)
To make a complaint about a company.
Call 1800 500 509 (freecall) or write to GPO Box 469D Melbourne, VIC 3001.