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Debt collectors are the last resort. Usually:
- You can usually work out a payment plan with your electricity company as they have hardship provisions.
- If it's gone past this and you're getting calls from a debt collection agency, you'll need to pay the debt collector a lump sum or enter into a repayment plan.
There are some very clear rules about what debt collectors can and can't do, your rights and obligations are set out in the Debt Collection Practices Act (2009). Debt collectors must respect your privacy, hours and place of contact as well as requests for documents. Here's what to do when debt collectors call you about your electricity bill.
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A debt collector can only contact you to give you information about your account such as service restrictions, request you make a payment or make an arrangement for a payment, or to find out why you haven't stuck to the agreed payment plan.
- You will contact your energy company or debt collection agency if you're experiencing financial hardship.
- You won't attempt to avoid your obligation to pay the debt.
- You will be honest about your financial situation when agreeing to a payment plan.
How can a debt collector can contact you?
A debt collector can contact you in more ways than by just calling. You may be contacted in writing, in person or even email.
Over the phone
Debt collectors can contact you over the phone no more than 3 times a week or 10 times a month, Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 9pm and weekends from 9am to 9pm.
A debt collector can contact you in person no more than once a month, 7 days a week from 9am to 9pm. This is a last resort and is only acceptable if the debt collector has tried unsuccessfully to contact you by all other means.
What a debt collector can't do
A debt collector must treat you with courtesy and respect your privacy at all times. Things a debt collector cannot do:
- Contact you more times than what's outlined above.
- Use threatening language or behaviour including racist and obscene language and force against you, your family or people you're associated with.
- A debt collector cannot lie about the consequences if you don't pay.
- Send letters demanding payment which look like court documents.
- A debt collector cannot misrepresent themselves.
HOW TO DEAL WITH DEBT COLLECTORS
Disputing a debt
You're within your rights to dispute a debt or raise a billing issue if you think you're not liable for the debt or there's a problem with the amount you owe or you've already made the payment.
What to say when you contact your energy provider about a problem or issue
- Quote your customer reference number, account number and name.
- Let them know about the issue and your preference for solving the issue.
- Let them know about the steps you plan to take if the issue isn't resolved.
- Ask for a reasonable timeframe to have the issue resolved or to get a response.
If you haven't been able to get a result, you can contact the relevant energy ombudsman for your state. The energy ombudsman is designed specifically to resolve problems between energy companies and consumers. Ombudsman services are free but should only be used after attempts to resolve the issue with the energy company yourself.
State energy ombudsman's
|New South Wales Energy & Water Ombudsman||1800 246 545|
|Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman||1800 662 837|
|ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal||02 6207 1740|
|Victoria Energy and Water Ombudsman||1800 500 509|
|South Australia Energy Industry Ombudsman||1800 665 565|
|Tasmania Energy Ombudsman||1800 001 170|
|Western Australia Energy and Water Ombudsman||1800 754 004|
|Northern Territory Ombudsman||1800 806 380|
Energy companies have hardship services
If you have trouble paying your electricity bill, the law says energy companies have to work with to keep the lights on and the debt collectors away. Contact your energy provider early as there are hardship programs to help you meet your commitments.
- Energy Australia EnergyAssist Program. For extensions longer than a couple of weeks the Energy Australia EnergyAssist program will take you off debt collection registers, keep your service active, help you seek assistance and offer a financial counsellor for you to talk to.
- Origin Energy Power On Program. Origin Energy offer something similar to Energy Australia, their Power On Program provides an extended payment plan, information about concessions and rebates, advice to cut down the bill and a financial counselling service.
- AGL: Staying Connected. Staying Connected provides requires a over the phone consultation with an AGL representative to work out a realistic plan and a schedule to pay back the gas or electricity bill. More importantly the account remains open during the repayment period. AGL offer a free financial counselling service as well as information on Centrelink, concessions and rebates.
- Centrepay. This is handy if you're on Centrelink. Centrepay works by paying an amount of your benefit directly to your energy provider to cover your energy bill. Giving a small amount each week, fortnight or month can add up by the time your quarterly electricity bill comes.
Still have some questions about energy debt collectors?
Know your rights and responsibilities when dealing with debt collectors so you can keep the lights on and your electricity flowing. If you have questions about what to do to deal with debt collectors, get in touch with us using the ask an expert form below. A member of the finder team will be in touch shortly after.
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