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How to get help paying your energy bills
Energy use skyrocketing? Struggling to pay your power bills? Here’s how to get help.
With home energy use up by 15 to 18 per cent on last year according to energy distribution company data, Victorians are receiving some frightening power bills this winter.
“Obviously it’s got a lot, if not everything, to do with people working from home,” explains Gavin Dufty, St Vincent de Paul Society policy and research manager. “People will get bigger bills that could terrify them – or shock just a little bit depending on their situation.”
For those struggling to pay their power bills, Gavin says there’s plenty of help available, both in the form of flexible payment options from energy retailers and government concessions and debt assistance. He says the energy industry has been put on notice that they must offer assistance for those facing hardship.
“The industry is acutely aware that it’s got to step up,” says Gavin. “The regulators have told them so, National Cabinet has told them so, organisations like mine and the general community would expect as much given the situation we’re in. But we have to help them to do the right thing.”
How do I ask for help?
“The trick for accessing the assistance available is you’ve got to call up and engage,” says Gavin. “If you don’t ask you don’t get.”
Your energy provider should be the first point of contact, he says, to apply for government concessions and rebates, and to request help in the form of flexible payments and debt deferrals from the retailer itself.
“There are lots of supports and they activate them all, they’re the gateway,” says Gavin. “It can be frustrating and take a bit of time so patience is worthwhile – there’s a pot of gold at that phone number at the top-right of your bill.
“The magical words are, ‘I’m seeking assistance through the payment difficulties framework’. Ask what specific supports they have."
He says it’s essential to stay engaged with your power provider if you’re struggling financially. If you keep in meaningful contact and explain your circumstances, they can keep you connected and manage your situation for up to two years under the payment difficulties framework.
Victorians who need help with their energy bills can also get access to financial counsellors and community workers for targeted advice under a new $3.7 million support package announced by the state government in late August.
The Energy Assistance and Brokerage Program, run by community organisations including the Brotherhood of St Laurence, helps struggling Victorians get assistance from their energy retailer to pay their bills and ensures they are receiving applicable energy concessions. Help is available online and over the phone, with financial counselling available in languages including Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi and Vietnamese. People can also access webinars and factsheets delivered by the Consumer Research Policy Centre. Find out more at energyinfohub.org.au , Energy Assistance and Brokerage Program, or ring 1800 830 029.
If your retailer is less than helpful, you can contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman.