A guide to energy bill payment hardship provisions – Victoria

Farmer holding a computer and silhouetted against a tractor in the background

There are a number of ways that you can improve your farm’s energy efficiency and reduce your energy costs. For example, you can shop around and potentially switch to the best energy deal for your farm’s energy use.  If you’re feeling financial pressure, help is available if you are having trouble paying your farm’s energy bills.

Payment difficulty support

If you are having trouble with your energy bills, it is important to reach out to your energy retailer as soon as possible. Your retailer may offer payment plans, bill extensions or other support to help keep you connected and manage your bills going forward.

If you mainly purchase energy for household use, you may be entitled to protections under Victoria’s Payment Difficulty Framework. Victorian residential customers have rights to tailored assistance from their retailer to help them repay any arrears, including a fair payment plan suited to your circumstances. You can find out more information at the Essential Services Commissions’ It’s your energy, Victoria

If you ask your retailer for help, but you are not satisfied with their response, you can raise the issue with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV). EWOV is a free, independent dispute resolution service for energy and water issues. You can contact EWOV on 1800 500 509 (free call) or visit the EWOV website.

There are Victorian Government guides on what to do when you are Having trouble paying energy bills. These guides detail a range of steps including:

  1. Energy concessions for eligible households (not businesses) – discussed below
  2. Checking you are on the cheapest offer from your retailer
  3. Simple energy saving tips
  4. Utility Relief Grants for eligible households (not businesses) of up to $650 per utility to help households facing short-term financial crisis to repay arrears on overdue electricity, gas and water bills
  5. Energy bill help and advice from the Brotherhood of St Laurence
  6. Free, independent financial counselling from the National Debt Helpline.

The Australian Government also provides a free and confidential Rural Financial Counselling Service. The service is specifically for farmers and other related businesses who are experiencing financial difficulty or are at risk of financial difficulty. For more information, you can call 1300 771 741 or visit the Rural Financial Counselling Service website.

The National Debt Helpline also provides free and confidential financial counselling for people who are struggling with paying bills or debt. By calling the helpline, you can speak with financial counsellors who may help refer you to other services, including crisis food and accommodation, health, and legal services. You can contact the helpline at 1800 007 007 or visit the National Debt Helpline website.

Best offer advice

Under Victoria’s energy rules, energy retailers must indicate to household and small business customers on their bill (at least once every 3 months for electricity bills and once every 4 months for gas bills), whether they are on their best offer. You can save money on your energy bills by looking out for the ‘best offer’ information on your bill or simply contact your retailer.

Victorian Default Offer

The Victorian Default Offer (VDO) helps make sure Victorians have access to affordable energy. The VDO is a fair price for electricity set by Victoria’s energy regulator the Essential Services Commission. If your farm is a small business and you don’t shop around to choose your own energy offer, your retailer must roll you onto the VDO at the end of your existing contract. You can find out more at Victorian Default Offer. While the VDO is a fair safety net, you can generally find cheaper offers by shopping around at Victoria Energy Compare. See the Energy Smart Farming guide “Victorian government advice on reducing energy costs” for more details on finding the best energy retailer offer.

$250 Power Saving Bonus

The Victorian Government is encouraging people doing it tough to apply for the one-off $250 Power Saving Bonus. Eligible households include those receiving payments through the Pension Concession, JobSeeker, Austudy, Abstudy or Youth Allowance programs, or who hold a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card. The program provides a $250 payment to those who need it most with the payment typically transferred electronically into bank accounts or provided by cheque on request. People who may not have a computer or need help applying can get help through community outreach partners − Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Consumer Policy Research Centre, Good Shepherd and Neighbourhood House, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Consumer Action Law Centre, and State Trustees Limited. The program closes 31 January 2022. To apply for the bonus visit Victorian Energy Compare. If you need assistance with your application phone 1800 000 832.

Energy concessions

Energy concessions available to eligible households (not businesses), can help reduce energy costs. Holders of Health Care Cards, Pensioner Cards and Veteran Affairs Gold Cards can request energy concessions from their retailer. The Victorian Government details energy concessions and eligibility criteria:

The Energy Info Hub (backed by the not-for-profit Consumer Policy Research Centre) also provides concession guides. Concessions for the cardholders mentioned above include:

  • 5% reduction on electricity and gas bills
  • Free electricity connection when moving to a new house
  • An additional reduction for off-peak controlled load used for slab-heating and hot water
  • Support for people with medical conditions that require summer air-conditioning and life support equipment
  • Support for bottled gas and firewood heating costs in some situation.

This article was written by David Coote, Analytical Engines with support from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Agriculture Victoria.

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