Keeping communities connected
A list of financial relief measures for Victorians during the COVID-19 crisis

As people find themselves trying to get by on a reduced income (or in some cases no income at all), at a time when many are already getting by on limited means, people will inevitably struggle to pay bills.

Essential services such as housing, electricity, water and telecommunications have huge implications on the health and wellbeing of our community. Now more than ever, it’s important people remain connected to these essential services.

Community organisations and service providers are calling on companies and governments to commit the following COVID-19 relief measures (see here):

  1. No disconnections from energy or telecommunication services if you can’t pay.
  2. A freeze on rent and loan repayments for people in financial hardship.
  3. Waivers on all penalty and late fees.

We will be keeping track of public announcements made by companies and governments in relation to these measures.

UTILITY RELIEF (ELECTRICITY, GAS, WATER) 

By law, energy and water companies are required to offer help. Contact your electricity, gas, or provider to request hardship assistance. Your retailer might give you more time to pay your bills or work out a plan to pay in instalments over time.

If you have trouble getting assistance from your energy retailer, contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOV) on 1800 500 509 (131 450 for languages other than English).

DEBT RELIEF (BANKS AND LENDERS)

  • Commbank: Call 13 3095 or request financial assistance in NetBank if you’re behind in repayments.
  • Westpac:
    • Apply online for Westpac Assistance if you’re experiencing hardship or call 132 032
    • Customers who have lost their job or suffered loss of income as a result of COVID-19 can contact Westpac for three months deferral on their home loan mortgage repayments, with extension for a further three months available after review.
    • Westpac announced it will decrease variable interest rates by 0.25% per annum (p.a.) for home loan customers, as well as rates on small business cash-based loans and overdrafts. Read more here: https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2020/3-march/ 
  • NAB:
  • ANZ:
    • Offering six-month loan holidays to mortgage customers and a 15 basis point cut to the standard variable rate.
    • For hardship assistance, call on 1800 252 845 between 9am-7pm AEST, Monday to Friday
  • On Friday 20 March, the Australian Banking Association (ABA) announced that small businesses affected by the COVID-19 health crisis will be able to apply for a loan repayment deferral up to six months. No relief on mortgage payments yet as they’re yet to see households going into mortgage stress. They will reassess if the situation changes. (See here for announcement.)

If you’re dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are practical ways your bank can help. Assistance might include:

  • deferring loan payments,
  • waiving fees and charges,
  • helping with debt consolidation,
  • waiving penalties for early withdrawal of a term deposit or
  • deferring upcoming credit card payments and increasing emergency limits

See here for a full list of banks who are members of the Australian Banking Association: https://www.ausbanking.org.au/campaigns/financial-hardship.

If your request for financial assistance is denied by your bank or financial services provider or you feel you weren’t treated fairly, you can contact AFCA on 1800 931 678 (free call) to make a complaint.

The National Debt Helpline is a free, independent and confidential financial counselling service, which provides advice on how to manage debts and access financial support. If you’re having trouble with loan, utility, or telecommunications debt, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007

For more information visit: https://ndh.org.au

TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES

  • Telstra:
    • On Friday 20 March, Telstra announced small businesses and consumers unable to pay their bills will not be charged late fees or disconnected until at least the end of April, at which point the company will review further.
    • Late payment fees may still apply for bills that become overdue before 19 March 2020, or after 30 April 2020.
    • Home broadband customers (ADSL, NBN and Cable) will be provided with unlimited data at no additional charge on their plan until 30 April 2020
    • Post-paid mobile customers (both handheld and mobile broadband) can receive an extra 25GB of data on their plan to use in Australia within 30 days
    • Pre-paid mobile customers with an active recharge of $40+ can get 10GB of additional data to use in Australia within 28-30 days (depending on your plan)
    • Eligible pensioners with a Telstra home phone plan will also be able to make unlimited local, national and 13/1300 calls, and calls to Australian mobiles, from their home phone in Australia until the 30 April
    • For more details visit:  https://exchange.telstra.com.au/supporting-our-customers-during-covid-19/
  • Optus:
    • Optus customers (including small businesses) can put their plan on hold for free.
    • Late payment fees will be waived until 30 April.
    • Disconnection and credit collection activities are on hold until 30 April.
    • If you are facing hardship, please ring the Optus Customer Care line on 1300 308 839
    • Eligible prepaid customers will be offered 10GB of free extra data when you top up for more than $40 during the month of April.
    • Eligible mobile subscribers will be offered a one off 20GB of free extra data which can be activated within My Optus app anytime during the month of April.
  • Vodafone:
    • Customers experience financial hardship directly or indirectly as a result of COVID-19, for example are unable to make payments, should call Vodafone on 1300 650 405 between 8am-8pm AEST Monday to Friday.
    • Postpaid customers who are not on an endless data plan an additional 5 GB of maximum speed data to use in the next month. That data will be added to all plans by Friday 27 March.
    • Active prepaid customers will receive a one-off bonus of 3 GB with their next recharge.
    • Unlimited standard national calls to all Vodafone postpaid customers and active prepaid customers by Friday 27 March until the end of April.
    • For more details visit: https://www.vodafone.com.au/media/keeping-customers-connected
  • Aussie Broadband:
    • Providing unmetered data usage between 6am-6pm for all customers on limited data NBN and ADSL plans
    • Enabling any of its few remaining customers on 12/1 speed plans to change onto a 25/5 plan to help them work from home if required
    • Temporarily stopping all service suspensions due to late payments

If you are unable to resolve your phone and internet issues with your provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 1800 062 058.

RENT RELIEF

Dear Landlord is a tool created by Justice Connect’s Homeless Law service. The letter writing tool has been created for people who:

  • are renting a property in Victoria;
  • have a private landlord who owns that property (i.e. not the Director of Housing or a community housing provider);
  • have fallen behind in rent.

You can access the tool here: https://apps.justiceconnect.org.au/dear-landlord/

For information about your rights as a tenant visit Tenants Victoria: https://www.tenantsvic.org.au/advice/coronavirus-covid-19/

While the Western Australian Government has put a freeze on an increase in household costs, including rent, electricity, water, public transport and car registration – no such commitment has been made by any other government, including Victoria.

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