At one time or another you may experience difficulties paying your energy bill. Under the National Energy Retail Law, which currently applies in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT, energy retailers are required to assist consumers experiencing financial difficulty.
It is important that if you contact your energy retailer as soon as possible. Advising your retailer and getting help early can mean you avoid paying extra fees, such as late payment fees, and having your supply disconnected.
Extension of time to pay
Contact your retailer and ask for extra time to pay your bill. Let them know about your circumstances and agree with them a new date for when you will be able to pay your bill.
Ask your retailer for a payment plan—where you pay for your energy in regular agreed amounts (instalments). Your retailer must offer you a payment plan unless you have already been on two or more plans in the last year and did not keep to them.
When working out your payment plan instalment amount, your retailer must take into account your capacity to pay (what you can afford to pay each week or fortnight), as well as how much you owe and how much energy you are likely to use over the coming year.
Only agree to an instalment amount you can realistically afford, because if you don’t stick to the payment plan or skip payments your plan will be cancelled and you could be disconnected. If you do stick to your payment plan, your retailer cannot disconnect you.
If you cannot agree with your retailer on an appropriate instalment amount for your payment plan, you can contact the energy ombudsman in area for further assistance. See 'Making a complaint' for the contact details of each energy ombudsman scheme.
If you receive Centrelink benefits, ask your retailer about Centrepay—a payment arrangement that allows you to transfer an amount you choose from your benefit that goes directly towards paying your energy bill. For further information about Centrepay, please call your normal Centrelink payment line.
Under the National Energy Retail Law, which currently applies in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT, energy retailers are required to help customers who are having trouble paying their energy bills. The help available is set out in their customer hardship policy which is approved by the AER. For more information on this approval process, see the 'Hardship policy webpage.
The types of help available under customer hardship policies include:
- Processes to identify customers who may be experiencing trouble paying their bills and to provide help early
- Offering an extension of time to pay, flexible payment options and payment plans (including Centrepay)
- Identifying government concession programs that may be available to you
- Referring you to financial counselling services
- Reviewing your energy contract to make sure you are on one that best meets your needs
- Providing you with energy efficiency advice to help reduce your bills
- Waiving any late payment fees that may have been applied to your account
If you are actively participating in your retailer's customer hardship program, your retailer cannot disconnect you.
This information sheet explains the help that is available for customers who are experiencing trouble paying their energy bills.
Remember, if you cannot reach an agreement with your retailer about how to pay your energy bills, or have a complaint about their hardship program which you have not been able to resolve with them directly, you can contact the energy ombudsman in your state or territory for assistance. See 'Making a complaint' for the contact details of each energy ombudsman scheme.
The AER has worked collaboratively with a range of stakeholders to develop the Sustainable Payment Plans Framework. The Framework is designed to help residential customers and retailers agree to payment plans that are sustainable and affordable.
The Framework consists of:
- a set of principles that should guide retailers' capacity to pay conversations with customers, and
- good practice actions and considerations retailers should follow at different stages of a payment plan, including: determining the customer's capacity to pay, reviewing the payment plan, helping customers in severe financial difficulty, dealing with missed payments and completing a payment plan.
The Framework has been adopted by the following retailers:
- Alinta Energy
- Aurora Energy
- Click Energy
- Energy Locals
- Enova Energy
- Ergon Energy Queensland
- Locality Planning Energy
- Metered Energy Holdings
- Mojo Power
- Origin Energy
- People Energy
- Pooled Energy
- Simply Energy
Retailers that choose to adopt the Framework are responsible for ensuring they apply the Framework and that their processes and procedures are consistent with the standards set. If you have a concern with how your retailer has handled your payment plan discussions, you should raise this with your retailer directly. If the issue is still not resolved, you can contact the relevant energy ombudsman scheme.
Disconnection of your energy supply should be a last resort option for your energy retailer. There are rules around what a retailer must do before it takes this action, including providing you with reminders and a disconnection warning notice. More information is available on the 'Disconnected' section of this website.
Under the National Energy Retail Law, your retailer cannot disconnect you, if you are actively participating in their hardship program or if you are sticking to your agreed payment plan.
If you are disconnected, you may have to pay a reconnection fee. Some retailers may also require you to provide a security deposit.
Mei was late paying a few energy bills so she missed receiving her pay on time discount. After contacting her retailer for help, she was offered a range of assistance through the hardship program, including energy efficiency advice and a new contract that suited her needs.