As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, many Australians will find themselves facing financial difficulties now or in the weeks to come. Your utility bills are one of those things that may cause you more financial stress during this frantic period.
The good news is that most energy and Internet providers have some sort of financial hardship program in place in order to make this financial burden more manageable for you, with some having come out with more specific responses in relation to COVID-19.
Coronavirus assistance from your energy provider
Most energy providers have a financial hardship policy that includes payment extensions, payment plans if people are behind on their bills, automatic payment of bills via Centrelink income and financial counselling referrals. Retailers that provide programs like these include Red Energy and Simply Energy.
Here are some specific measures different companies have put in place as a result of the coronavirus.
Origin Energy say they've added some extra support while the coronavirus outbreak is ongoing:
Energy disconnections are temporarily suspended for customers who haven't paid their bills.
Vulnerable customers with life support needs or who need their supply reconnected are being prioritised.
Their financial hardship program is still operating as normal, including payment extensions and tailored payment plans for struggling customers.
Like Origin, AGL has put out a response to the current situation for customers. In summary:
"We have a range of options that we can offer customers who may be struggling to pay their bills, the most important thing to do, is to get in touch with us early, so we can work with you to ensure you are on an affordable plan that suits your circumstances."
- Brett Redman, AGL's Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director
EnergyAustralia will be offering their regular financial hardship assistance via the EnergyAssist program, as well as:
Encouraging customers to get in touch online rather than via the phone to avoid long wait times.
Customers will not have their power disconnected during this period.
Advice and help for small businesses depending on their particular situation with a team of business energy specialists.
For customers in Victoria, NSW, SA and QLD, Alinta will apply their regular financial hardship programs. They are also doing the following:
Encouraging online communication via MyAccount (on its website), Facebook, online enquiry form or email because of reduced call centre hours.
Western Australian residents can access the Continuous Energy Program, which is a similar financial hardship program by another name.
In partnership with the Tasmanian government, Aurora has agreed to a price increase cap for the next 12 months and a 100% waiver on the next energy bill for small business customers after 1 April. There will also be:
A $5 million special financial hardship program entitled the COVID-19 Customer Support Program. This can include debt freezing, fee and charge waiving and bill relief in addition to regular financial hardship assistance.
Suspension of meter reads to protect staff, meaning quarterly reads will be estimated.
What if your energy provider hasn't said anything about coronavirus?
Not limited to coronavirus, some energy companies still offer financial hardship plans designed to assist residents who are struggling to pay their bills. These programs vary from retailer to retailer, but often include extra time to make payments and payment plans.
Here's a quick rundown of major energy providers' financial hardship plans:
Tailored plan that considers your current financial position
Specially designed plan to cover your debt and energy payments over two years
Weekly, fortnightly or monthly plans to cover debt and energy fees over 12 months
Centrepay (automatic redirect of Centrelink payments to energy bills)
Financial counselling referral
Contact details of energy providers in relation to financial hardship
Outside of specific energy providers, most state governments have taken steps to protect low income earners during this pandemic crisis. In Western Australia alone, from 16 March until mid 2021, there is a freeze on household fees and charges.
Here are all the latest state responses in regards to your energy bills:
Measures in place
$200 utility payment for all households, applied as an automatic rebate
$500 utility rebate for small and medium businesses that consume less than 100,000 kWh, automatically applied
Freeze on domestic charges including electricity, water, motor vehicle charges, emergency services levy and public transport fares
Doubling Energy Assistance Program payments for low income earners and concession card holders to assist in paying utility bills
$30 million in extra funds for the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance Scheme (EAPA)
Additional $200 to households that are receiving the Utilities Concession
$750 rebate to small businesses on their next electricity bill
$5 million support fund established in partnership with state supplier Aurora Energy, including payment plans, debt freezing, bill relief and waiving fees and charges
In addition to the above, energy companies will usually help you find out what energy rebates, government grants or assistance programs you might be able to access. If you'd like to check our full list of concessions and rebates organised by state, check out our guide here.
How can you be more efficient with your energy?
Review. The first step to saving energy is to understand where the costs are coming from. Identify your main energy-hungry appliances and any sources of inefficiency in your home's design.
Time of use. Do you use most electricity during the day or night? If you use the majority of your power in the morning and early afternoon, you might benefit from a time of use tariff, which charges less during these off-peak periods.
Energy hotspots. Big energy sinks include heating and cooling, as well as standby lights. Ensure your heating, cooling and cooking devices are properly installed, well-maintained and efficient.
Energy-efficient appliances. Appliances account for about 30% of your energy bills. Get simpler appliances with only the features you need and look for higher efficiency star ratings.
Coronavirus assistance from your Internet provider
With businesses and workplaces closing down or minimising their hours due to the coronavirus outbreak, we'll be seeing a change in the financial situations of everyday Australians in the coming weeks and months. Some Internet companies have introduced special assistance measures to help customers affected by COVID-19 on top of their regular financial hardship programs.
Currently, only four Internet providers have announced extra help for those specifically affected by COVID-19. We're keeping this page regularly updated and will add new information as we hear from providers.
Vodafone has mentioned that customers who have been financially affected either directly or indirectly from COVID-19 shouldn't hesitate to contact them in regards to applying for Vodafone's financial hardship program online or over the phone.
Aussie Broadband has announced a temporary halt on suspending plans due to non-payment, in order to relieve a bit of stress for its customers during this period. Aussie Broadband will continue running its regular financial hardship policy and understand that there will be customers who need an extra hand due to being impacted by COVID-19. They've also reached out to us to expand on their policies, encouraging customers to get into contact with them if they are struggling:
Payment plans can be made and include temporarily postponing your payment to partial, ongoing payments over an agreed upon time period. These can be set up via the MyAussie app or by contacting the Aussie Broadband support team.
Tailored individual services are available for customers who are experiencing financial difficulties. There is no maximum period of time for these solutions as they as assessed on a case by case basis.
Telstra has followed suit and stopped late fees and disconnections for small businesses and consumers who aren't able to pay their bills. Whilst they've announced for this to occur until the end of April, the company has said they will review their policies as the crisis continues.
From March 27, Optus will be offering the following to their customers (including small businesses):
Waiving late payment fees until April 30
Suspending disconnection and credit collection activities until April 30
Ability to put postpaid mobile plans on hold
Optus will also be providing more support for customers who are eligible for the Government Coronavirus financial support, with more details to come.
Other Internet providers
Whilst other providers have yet to comment on support services in direct relation to COVID-19, many have introduced bonus data offers for their customers to ease the transition to working from home or self-isolation at home.
What if your Internet provider hasn't specified anything about coronavirus?
Many Internet providers already have financial hardship policies in place to assist struggling customers. Here's a quick comparison of what's available from some of the major broadband providers, though you should always check with your own provider to see what's actually available for you.
May involve limiting services.
May involve service restriction.
May involve service restriction.
Potentially moving you to a lower cost plan.
Flexible payments/payment plans
Not explicitly mentioned in its policy.
Waive late fees
Unlike some energy providers who explicitly include financial counselling referrals, Internet providers unfortunately don't offer the same service. However, some Internet providers do include links to free financial counsellor services in their financial hardship policies which are worth a look at.
Contact details of Internet providers for financial hardship
Speed. Faster plans attract higher monthly costs. Consider whether you actually need the speed tier you're on or if you could get by with a slower plan. For example, if you have a household of two and don't really need to stream ultra-high-definition video, you would likely be fine downgrading from NBN50 to NBN25. Remember, you can always switch back later if you aren't happy.
Data caps. While many plans offer unlimited data these days, limited data plans still exist. You may be able to save a little money each month by switching from unlimited to limited, especially if you really don't need all that data. You can use our data usage calculator to get a rough estimate of how much data you go through on your home Internet each month.
Provider switch. Providers are constantly offering promotional deals to lure in new customers. If you're motivated, you could switch from provider to provider every 6 months to a year to take advantage of temporary plan cost reductions or the like.
Modems. Some providers will let you bring your own modem when you buy a plan with them, while others require you to buy a new one. Switching to providers that don't force you to shell out for a new modem can save you around a hundred dollars each time.
Other ways to save money
Your utilities bills are one of those things that won't easily budge, even if you're facing a tough time. The good news is that there are always ways to save on your bills.
Sam Baran is a writer for Finder, covering topics across the tech, telco and utilities sectors. They enjoy decrypting technical jargon and helping people compare complex products easily. When they aren't writing, you'll find Sam's head buried in a book or working on their latest short story. Sam has a Bachelor of Advanced Science from the University of Sydney.
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