Financial counsellor Emily talks about dealing with outstanding utility bills.
Utility bills can take up a big portion of your income and many low income households can struggle to keep up especially when unplanned expenses occur. All utilities have hardship policies and schemes to support households experiencing financial hardship.
Ashley is a single Mum living in rented accommodation who contacted us about her situation. She had arrears of $1,300 to a gas provider and was worried about being disconnected.
After asking Ashley a few questions about her situation, we discovered that six months ago she had fled to a women’s shelter due to domestic violence. During this time, her ex-partner continued to use the gas and did not pay the account which was in her name.
When Ashley moved into a new rental and requested a new gas connection, she was asked for consent to roll the previous account’s arrears into the current account. Ashley said she was so flustered at that time because of all the traumatic events going on in her life that she just said ‘yes’ – she explained that she did not know she could actually say ‘no’ to the gas provider about this.
After obtaining Ashley’s consent, we contacted the utility provider on her behalf to advise them of the circumstances of her arrears and was informed that because Ashley had consented to the rollover there was nothing they could do. The gas provider also advised that the debt was outside the timeframe for review and therefore Ashley would have to pay the full amount.
Based on Ashley’s situation, the financial counsellor escalated the issue and contacted the gas provider’s hardship team. The retailer’s hardship team reviewed Ashley’s case. The arrears were waived based on the sensitive nature of Ashley’s circumstances. During the review it was also identified that Ashley was eligible for a long term payment scheme which provided support for her to smooth her bills and make regular payments. This resulted in Ashley being able to make affordable, regular payments rather than having the shock of large bills every 3 months.