Hardship programs

Many utility companies and financial services have hardship programs to assist people experiencing difficulties paying their bills.  All energy retailers and telecommunications providers must have a hardship program. 

They vary in what services they provide but often assist customers to manage their debt and stay connected to the service.  To access these programs, or get help from a financial counsellor, call the service provider and ask for their hardship team. 

For more information on these programs:

  • Telecommunications – visit the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) website for links to all the telecommunication companies' hardship policies. 
  • Energy – visit the Australian Energy Regulator’s webpage for links to all the energy company hardship policies.
  • Banks - If you are struggling with your loan or mortgage repayments ask your lender for a hardship variation to make your loan more manageable. A hardship variation is a change to the terms of the loan, based on financial hardship. Visit the Australian Banking Association website for a list of their members' hardship policies.
  • The Australian Securities and Investments Commission's (ASIC) MoneySmart website provides guidance on how to approach your lender if you are struggling with your debts
  • Toll company Transurban's Linkt Assist hardship program and team help people who cannot pay their tolls and toll fines. More details can be found on the Linkt website

Support from phone and internet providers

  • Telstra: All consumer and small business customers will receive additional data, and unlimited home phone calls are available for pensioners. Telstra have suspended late fees and disconnections. See more.
  • Optus: Many customers already receive unlimited data on NBN residential and 5G connections, but eligible mobile customers are being offered a one-off additional 20GB of free data. Activate during the month of April, valid for 30 days. See more. 
  • Vodafone: All post-paid customers will automatically receive 5GB bonus data at maximum speeds for use over the next month. These allowances will take effect by Friday March 27th. Prepaid customers will receive a once-off 3GB of bonus data with their next recharge, regardless of the recharge value. See more.
  • Aussie Broadband: Providing unmetered data usage between 6:00am-6:00pm 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. 

Check with your individual provider to see what else they may be offering.

ACCAN is also providing frequently updated information on Assistance Packages here.

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

Electricity, gas and water bills

Energy rebate

The Queensland Government is providing a $200 utilities rebate for all Queensland households (including the $50 Asset Ownership Dividend already announced) to offset the cost of water and electricity bills. The rebate will be automatically applied through household electricity bills.

Support from energy suppliers

Ergon Energy Retail and Ergon Network have stopped disconnecting power for unpaid bills in regional Queensland for households experiencing hardship due to the ongoing impacts of coronavirus.

In South East Queensland, where there are several retailers, Energex has ceased disconnections for one large retailer and is finalising arrangements with the rest.

Energy hardship programs

Energy retailers must have a financial hardship policy to provide individualised support for customers who are experiencing payment difficulty. Depending on the retailer, a hardship program may include incentive payments, energy efficiency audits or financial counselling advice.

To access this support, ask to speak to the retailer’s hardship team. Some retailers provide a dedicated phone line for financial counsellors and community sector support workers to access the hardship team directly. This can help save you time and ensure you can get timely assistance for your client.

For more information on what to do if you can't pay an energy bill and links to retailers' hardship programs visit the Can't pay an electricity or gas bill page on Community Door.

Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS)

The Queensland Government’s Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS) offers a one-off payment of up to $720 for Queensland customers who are unable to pay their electricity or gas bill due to a short-term financial crisis. Clients should contact their energy retailer to request the HEEAS application form. Call 13 74 68 or visit the Queensland Government website for information, or watch our online webinar for a step-by-step guide on how to access HEEAS.

Support from water suppliers

If anyone is experiencing difficulty in paying their water and sewerage bill, get in touch with your water provider as soon as possible to discuss your situation. Most have a designated hardship program and offer flexible payment plans.

Urban Utilities has provided answers to some frequently asked questions about water and wastewater services here

For more information on what to do if you can't pay a water bill visit the Can't pay a water bill page on Community Door.

Support from Australian banks

To support customers through this time of uncertainty, Australian banks are stepping up with more clearly defined financial relief strategies.

ANZ

ANZ’s assistance options currently focus on their business customers, but they’re also ensuring retail customers can access all their accounts digitally to support social distancing.

Business banking customers can expect:

  • Suspended interest repayments
  • Early access to term deposits without break fees
  • Access to additional credit (subject to approval)
  • A 0.25% p.a. decrease in variable interest business loan rates across a range of products 

Contact ANZ at 13 13 14.

Commonwealth Bank

Commonwealth Bank have extensive options set up for their business customers, and are assisting other customers on a case-by-case basis for home loan, credit card and personal loan repayments.

Other business support includes:

  • Deferring repayments and fee waivers for various products (including repayments on business loans and overdrafts for 90 days)
  • Waiving merchant terminal fees for 90 days
  • Deferring repayments on vehicle and equipment finance loans, and tailoring restructuring options
  • Waiving early redraw fees on business term deposit accounts (including Farm Management Deposit accounts)
  • Waiving establishment fees and excess interest on temporary excess products

Call the Business Financial Assistance Team on 13 26 07 or the Financial Assistance Team on 13 30 95 for other account holders.

NAB

NAB also has a primary business customer focus, early on announcing measures to support these customers as tourism and regular spending screeches to a halt and cash-flow hits a wall.

These include:

  • Deferral of business loan repayments and extension of business loan terms (both up to 3 months), based on individual circumstances
  • Support to restructure existing business loans, including equipment finance
  • Business credit card deferred repayments.

They suggest all customers experiencing hardship reach out to their banking manager, or give the general enquiry line a call on 13 22 65.

Westpac

Business customers at Westpac will have a range of support measures to consider in the wake of Coronavirus, while the bank suggests any other customers negatively affected should go through the standard financial hardship support process. Businesses banking with Westpac can consider:

  • Fee-free redraws on loans
  • Business loan deferred repayments by up to 3 months
  • Options to extend business loan terms by up to 3 months
  • Restructuring and consolidating loans
  • Access to term deposit funds without reduction in interest rates
  • Deferred payments for business credit cards
  • Access to business finance counselling

Check your business or personal eligibility for assistance by ringing 1800 067 497.

Visit the Mozo website to see the full guide to Australian banks' emergency Coronavirus relief packages.

 

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Author: 
Samuel Mortimer, QCOSS

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