THE VOICE does not need to point out to its readers that energy prices are on the rise. Everyone has felt it and is not happy about it.
But if you’re struggling to pay your bills there are a few things that the energy companies don’t want you to know.
Did you know that if you ring your energy retailer about an inability to pay your bill on time, they are supposed to inform you about their hardship charter?
Didn’t think so.
There is a real lack of transparency in NSW about hardship programs and the energy retailers want to keep it this way.
The key problem is a lack of knowledge of what is available. Victoria’s hardship programs have much better outcomes because they have been more widely publicised.
So THE VOICE would like to set the record straight. Back in 2007 regulations were implemented to require all energy companies to develop payment plans for the benefit of consumers who are having difficulties paying their bills. Energy companies are now required by law to implement and publish detailed customer hardship charters, advising customers of any Government concessions that may apply to them, together with flexible payment options as well as financial counselling services if appropriate.
So why are energy retailers hiding this from consumers?
Because it distorts their figures. They want bills paid as quickly as possible with little, if any, regard to the needs of their customers.
THE VOICE has learnt that some customers have been told that if they are unable to pay a bill due to financial hardship reasons, they must pay a lump sum, often over $500 upfront, before being eligible for the hardship program.
This is simply not true.
Other customers have reported that their energy retailer advised them to obtain EAPA vouchers to pay their bills.
While EAPA vouchers or Energy Accounts Payment Assistance are definitely very useful for customers, they are only for small amounts so can certainly not pay entire energy bills.
These vouchers are funded by the NSW Government and are administered by welfare organisations, including St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and Anglicare.
You can contact your local welfare organisation’s office to find out more.
Some other rarely known rebates include the Life Support Rebate for customers who require certain lifesaving medical equipment in their homes (such as a kidney dialysis machine or a respirator/ventilator).
There is also a Medical Energy Rebate for customers unable to regulate their body temperature due to a medical condition (such as Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis).
To be eligible for this, a doctor who has been treating you for at least 3 months must verify this and the energy account holder in your home must have a Pensioner Concession Card, a Department of Veterans Affairs Gold Card or a Commonwealth Health Care Card.
If your energy retailer slaps you with a late fee and discourages you from entering a payment plan of smaller instalments, know your rights and voice your concerns.
If, after speaking with your energy retailer directly, the problem isn’t fixed or you’re not satisfied, you can contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW on 1800 246 545.