What to do when debt collectors call you about your electricity bill

Information verified correct on April 26th, 2017

Debt collectors must respect your privacy.

Debt collectors are a last resort. Work out a payment plan with your electricity company, 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.

What to do when you get the call from a debt collector

If you get a call about a debt, ask the debt collector to provide a written copy if they don’t provide a letter of demand so you can check the charges. You may want to dispute the debt. If it’s a legitimate claim, you may be able to negotiate a payment plan with the debt collector. This is an agreement to pay instalments you can afford over a period of time. A debt collector can not make you agree to a repayment plan you can’t afford.

Your responsibilities

  • 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.

Why a debt collector can contact you

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.

When 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 7.30am to 9pm and weekends 9am to 9pm.

In person

A debt collector can contact you in person no more than once a month, 7 days a week 9am to 9pm. This is be 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 can not 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 can not lie about the consequences if you don’t pay.
  • Send letters demanding payment which look court documents.
  • A debt collector cannot misrepresent themselves.

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

  1. Quote your customer reference number, account number and name.
  2. Let them know about the issue and your preference for solving the issue.
  3. Let them know about the steps you plan to take if the issue isn’t resolved.
  4. Ask for a reasonable timeframe to have the issue resolved or to get a response.
Tip: Contact your energy company and let them know exactly why you think there’s a problem and preferred outcome. Make sure you record the time, date and name of the person you spoke to. You can ask to speak to a more senior employee of the energy company if your dispute isn’t properly handled. It can be a good idea to contact your energy provider in writing too.

Next step is the ombudsman

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

State Free call
New South Wales Energy & Water Ombudsman1800 246 545
Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman1800 662 837
ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal02 6207 1740
Victoria Energy and Water Ombudsman1800 500 509
South Australia Energy Industry Ombudsman1800 665 565
Tasmania Energy Ombudsman1800 001 170
Western Australia Energy and Water Ombudsman1800 754 004
Northern Territory Ombudsman1800 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, 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. 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?

What are the steps before my electricity gets disconnected?

The National Energy Retail Law sets out the steps the energy company must follow before your power is disconnected.

  • First you have to get your bill. The bill will show how much you owe and when you have to pay it.
  • If you don’t make the payment you will then get a reminder notice. The reminder notice has a due payment date.
  • A disconnection notice will come next if you don’t pay the reminder notice. The disconnection notice also has a payment due date.
  • Before you power is disconnected the energy company must make attempts to contact you by phone.

If you have trouble paying your electricity bill, contact your energy retailer to arrange hardship provisions.

What should I do if my electricity has been disconnected?

You have 10 business days to contact your energy company if they have disconnected your power and you want to get reconnected. If you wait longer, the debt can be passed to a debt collection agency. If you contact your power company in this time, you can apply for a hardship provision. You may need to pay a reconnection fee to get your account activated again. The National Energy Retail Law states that your power can not be disconnected if you are in a hardship program or paying your bill using a payment plan.

What do I do if the debt collector has acted illegally?

You can send a complaint to the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). It’s advised to send a written complaint to the debt collection agency first.

What is a letter of demand?

A letter of demand is a written notification providing warning of court action unless the debt is paid by a specific date.

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 a question form below. A member of the finder team will be in touch shortly after.

Jacob Joseph

Jacob is a writer and video journalist with finder.com.au. Credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts are his bread and butter, and he likes nothing more helping people understand the sometimes overly complex world of personal finance.

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