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This page has general information about utility debts, including electricity, gas, water and phone bills.
If you ignore a bill, the utility company or a debt collector may chase you for the outstanding debt and may start a court case against you. You may also have to pay late fees.
If you are struggling to pay your utility bills, the first step is to contact the service provider and try to negotiate a payment plan. You can do this by phone or by letter.
You should tell your service provider:
If you apply over the phone, you should keep a record of who you spoke with and get a reference number.
If you need help with calculating what you can afford to pay, you should see a free financial counsellor. Financial counsellors provide free assistance for people in financial difficulty.
Sample: Sample letter to utility provider.
For more information on electricity and phone bills, go to the Financial Rights Legal Centre website.
You should ask your service provider about applying for a rebate or voucher to help you pay your utility bills. Services such as the Salvation Armymay offer emergency relief in some cases.
If you receive Centrelink payments, you can pay your utility bills through a free and voluntary service called 'Centrepay'.
Centrepay allows you set up regular deductions from your Centrelink payment for utility bills, rent and other household costs. For more information, go to the Human Services website.
If you are unable to resolve the problem with the utility provider, you can complain to an Ombudsman service. It is free to lodge a complaint with an Ombudsman service.
The Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWON) handles complaints about energy, gas and some water providers. You can complain to EWON within 12 months from when you first became aware of the problem.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is a national independent dispute resolution scheme for complaints about phone or internet issues. You can complain to TIO within two years from when you first became aware of the problem.
To complain to an Ombudsman service, you will need to provide:
The Ombudsman service will try to resolve your complaint with your service provider. A decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on service providers but not on consumers. If you are not satisfied with the result of an investigation, you can ask for a review of the decision.
If you don't think you owe to debt in full, you should get legal advice or complain to the relevant Ombudsman.