How to apply for energy financial assistance
While financial stress can feel like an alienating experience, research shows it’s a lot more common than you think.
According to the Australian Energy Regulator’s latest Annual Retailers Market Report, 1.13% of residential energy customers were on an energy financial hardship plan during the 2018-19 financial year.
The average electricity debt totalled to $1,305.
If it’s your first time applying for an energy financial hardship program, this guide answers some commonly asked questions about what you’ll need to do and more importantly, what your rights are as an energy customer.
What is an energy financial hardship program?
Energy financial hardship programs are programs are provided by energy retailers to help customers struggling to pay electricity or gas bills on time. These programs can either be on a short or long term basis, depending on the level of financial hardship a customer is facing.
Why might I need to apply for financial assistance?
Aussies who apply for financial assistance may be doing so because they are experiencing financial stress due to:
- A death or illness in the family
- Domestic violence
- Sudden unemployment or reduced income.
Of course, there may be other reasons to seek help for.
Which energy retailers offer financial hardship programs?
Put simply, all of them.
According to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), under Retail Law energy retailers are required to “develop, maintain and implement customer hardship policies for their residential customers.”
So rest assured, no matter what energy retailer you’re with, they will be able to get you the help you need.
How do I apply for financial hardship?
If you believe you won’t be able to pay your upcoming bill(s), it’s important to get in touch with your energy retailer as soon as possible to avoid being disconnected. It’s understandable that you may be experiencing a high level of distress during this time, so you are also able to have a support person contact your retailer on your behalf.
From there, your retailer will work with you to establish the best possible solution for your circumstances.
*If you are seeking financial assistance due to COVID-19, find out what your retailer is doing to help customers by reading our COVID-19 energy assistance wrap up.
What does an energy financial hardship program look like?
Financial hardship programs differ between retailers, however all share the same goal: to provide assistance that’s in the best interest for the customer. Some common forms of financial hardship programs include:
- Personalised payment plans to make payments more manageable and affordable
- Switching customers onto a more affordable energy plan
- Tips on how to manage or reduce electricity usage
- Help for customers applying for any government grants or rebates.
Can I only seek financial assistance through my energy retailer?
While your energy retailer can help you get back on your feet, you can also apply for various government concessions, grants or rebates to help reduce your energy bills.
For example, in New South Wales, the Family Energy Rebate helps eligible families pay their electricity bills, while in Victoria, the Annual Electricity Concession also reduces electricity bills with a concession equal to 17.5 cents off usage and daily supply charge for the year.
Just keep in mind that you will need to prove your eligibility for these concessions and rebates, which may involve having a specific concession card or being the recipient of other government benefits.
If you’d like to find out which concessions, rebates or grants are available in your state or territory, check out the roundup at moneysmart.gov.au.
What are my rights when applying for financial hardship?
Transparency. Clarity. Accessibility. These are the three things you can now expect from your energy retailer when inquiring or applying for financial hardship.
Before 2019, there were no rules retailer’s had to follow in terms of the service they provided to customers experiencing hardship, which caused a gap between the policies a retailer had in place and what was put into practice.
Then on 2 April 2019, the AER published its Customer Hardship Guidelines as a response to the disconnect. These guidelines outline instructions and responsibilities energy retailers must comply with if they choose to submit new or altered hardship policies to the AER.
As an energy customer applying for financial hardship, you can expect:
- a response from your retailer in a timely and fair manner
- assistance from a trained professional
- a clear description of the eligibility conditions
- access to the hardship policy by any means (either online or postage)
- a hardship policy that is easy to understand
- a hardship policy that aligns with retail law and is approved by the AER.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your energy bill, there’s a chance you might be paying more than you need to. Our handy guide can help you find out if your retailer has been overcharging you.
Or if you’d like to find out how much you could be saving by switching to another offer, enter your postcode below to get started.