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Overwhelmed by bills or struggling financially as a result of COVID-19?
There are things you can do!

COVID-19 means this year we are staying at home now more than ever. As a result, your bills might be a lot higher than they were.  

As we enter the winter months, keeping warm and safe is more important than ever especially during this crisis. Health experts have had one message: stay at home.  

“No one deserves to have their gas, water or electricity disconnected because they cannot afford to pay,” says Jake Lilley, Senior Policy Officer, Consumer Action Law Centre.  

“But most people don’t realise that they have rights to receive assistance from their energy or water company when they are having trouble paying the bills. 

Unfortunately, we’ve heard about some energy companies that are failing to be proactive and discuss the assistance that is available. The truth is a person’s energy bill might not be top of mind when they are worrying about a sick family member or putting food on the table.  

“Energy companies need to do what’s right for the community,” he says.   

Telecommunications companies are also required to offer financial hardship to customers in need who contact them, which may include offering payment plans and waiving fees and interest. They must stop disconnections for customers keeping up with active hardship arrangements.   

Unfortunately, that depends on a person successfully contacting their telco provider and entering into an affordable arrangement with them,” says Brigette Rose, Senior Policy Officer. 

The onus is on individuals, who may not realise their rights if they can’t reach their providers or if they aren’t able to negotiate with these big and powerful companies to come to agreements that won’t break the bank.”  

Here are some things you can do now: 

–    If you are currently disconnected 

  • call the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV) on 1800 500 509 before 2pm for a same day reconnection of your services 
  • call the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 1800 046 686 or 03 8600 8308 for urgent help. 

–    Contact your energy retailer to apply for a Victorian Government Utility Relief Grant that can cover up to $650-$1300 of outstanding energy debt you cannot be disconnected while this application is being considered. 

–     Contact the TIO about non-urgent unresolved disputes with your telco provider at 1800 062 058 or through the TIO’s online form 

 –    Remember, if you are overwhelmed by bills or struggling financially, give a financial councillor a call on the National Debt Helpline on 1800 149 689. 

 –    If you are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and living in Victoria and want to know more about your rights, contact the Consumer Action Legal Centres- Koori Helpline on 1800 574 457 or VALS on 1800 064 865. 

ENDS 

Media contact: Mark Pearce, Media and Communications Adviser | Consumer Action Law Centre | 0413 299 567 | media@consumeraction.org.au

 

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