Hardship Policy

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1.    Introduction

This policy applies to all residential customers living in QLD, NSW, TAS, SA, WA, NT and ACT who find it hard to pay their energy bills due to hardship.

You might experience hardship because of factors like:

  • death in the family
  • household illness
  • family violence
  • unemployment
  • reduced income.

Falling on times of financial difficulty can happen to anyone. We understand that sometimes our customers need extra flexibility to pay their energy bills, and we care about assisting them to find ways to manage their energy account. Whether it’s providing minimum forms of assistance to all residential customers to help them avoid getting into debt, or for residential customers who have an outstanding balance, Electricity in a Box can provide options that suits each customer’s needs.

This policy explains:

  • what we will do to help you manage your energy bills
  • how we consider your circumstances and needs
  • your rights as a customer in our hardship program.

You can ask a support person to contact us, such as:

  • a financial counsellor
  • someone who helps you manage your energy bills.

We need your permission to talk to your support person.

  1. What we will do to help you

Our plan is to work with you to set up an arrangement that fits your circumstance and assists you to:

  • Pay your on-going energy use in manageable instalments
  • Understand how to become more energy efficient
  • Reduce and pay off your energy debt 

While you are on the hardship program, we’ll also:

  • Make sure your energy supply remains connected
  • Assist you in applying for any relevant government and non-government assistance or grants
  • Offer you the most suitable energy plan for their needs
  • Provide support aimed at minimising energy costs

Although we want our customers to feel comfortable approaching us, we understand that starting a conversation about money troubles can be tough. For this reason, we may also look out for early warning signs or triggers that our customers may be in need of support (this may include late or unpaid bills, regular payment extensions and any government assistance received). In the event of these circumstances, we will provide our customers with information on the following assistance options:

  • Our Regular Payment Plans which enable our customers to pay energy costs and debt over an agreed length of time
  • Advice about the likely cost of future energy use and how costs may be lowered, based on our customer’s pattern of energy use
  • Information on any assistance from government or non-government organisations, including energy concessions and grants our customers may be eligible for
  • Information on how our customers are progressing towards lowering their energy costs
  • Information to ensure our customers are on the right plans to minimise their energy costs
  • For those customers that are unable to meet their ongoing energy costs, we will provide additional support and assistance to become more energy efficient
  • Options for payment of ongoing energy use being made separately to any outstanding balance

We will tell you about our hardship program if:

  • you tell us you are having trouble paying your bill
  • you are referred to our program by a financial counsellor or other community worker
  • we are concerned that you may be experiencing financial hardship.

Meaningful and timely communication sits at the heart of the Hardship Assistance Program. If you are facing or expecting hardship or payment difficulties, we encourage you to contact us personally, or through a third party such as a financial counsellor or community welfare group.

We’re eager to give you information about the Hardship Assistance Program and provide assistance to get you back on track as soon as possible. We understand that this is a sensitive matter, so we will attempt to get in touch at times that work for our you and via your preferred contact method (if you tell us how you would prefer to be contacted).

We will recommend you speak to a staff member to help you join our hardship program if you have:

  • a history of late payments
  • broken payment plans
  • requested payment extensions
  • received a disconnection warning notice
  • been disconnected for non-payment.

We can also support you to join our hardship program if you tell us:

  • you are eligible for a relief grant or other emergency assistance
  • you have personal circumstances where hardship support may help. For example, death in the family or job loss.

You may have trouble paying your bills for different reasons. Please contact us so we can discuss your individual situation.

Our staff are specially trained to help you with hardship. Staff will:

  • ask you a few questions about your circumstances
  • work out if you can join the hardship program.

We will assess your application for hardship assistance by three business days.

We will let you know if you are accepted into our hardship program within five business days from receipt of the application.

If you are accepted into our hardship program, we will:

  • tell you if you are on the right energy plan or if there is a better plan for you
  • tell you about government concessions, relief schemes or energy rebates you may be able to receive
  • give you ideas about how to reduce your energy use
  • talk to you about a payment amount that suits your circumstances.

If you have any questions about our Hardship Assistance Program, call us on 1300 933 039  (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm AEST) and we’ll be happy to help. To access our Financial Hardship Policy, visit electricityinabox.com.au/hardship-policy 

We can send you a free copy of our hardship policy.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds (CALD)

Electricity in a Box is committed to providing services to people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and we will be mindful of these circumstances when tailoring a suitable assistance program.

If you have difficulty with English, an interpreter service is available at no cost, on 1300 933 039

2.    Payment Options

  • What we will do

There are different payment options available to hardship customers, including:

  • payment plans
  • Centrepay.

Regular Payment Plans

Our Regular Payment Plans are designed to assist our customers manage their payments in regular instalments. We will accept any Regular Payment Plan that will allow our customers to pay their on-going energy usage (based on a reasonable 12 month forecast) and any outstanding amounts over an agreed length of time. These instalments can be made weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

Our customers have 6 business days to consider the information we have given them regarding payment options, to request further information from us, and put forward a payment proposal that suits their needs. If something happens and there is a need to change the scheduled payment amount or scheduled payment dates, we can help with that too.

On accepting the right Regular Payment Plan that suits our customer’s circumstances, Electricity in a Box will send a written schedule of payments which will include:

  • The total number of payments to be made to pay any outstanding balance
  • The period over which the payments are to be made
  • The pay-by-date of each payment instalment amount
  • The amount of each payment instalment

To recognise customers who meet their Regular Pay plan agreements in full and on time, we may match payments with a credit on their account (in some instances for Hardship Assistance Program customers).

When you are in our hardship program, we will offer you flexible payment options to suit your individual situation.

To make your payment plan, we will consider:

  • how much you can pay
  • how much you owe
  • how much energy we expect you will use in the next 12 months.

This will help us figure out a payment plan that is right for you.

We will offer a payment plan to suit your situation. This will include payments to cover:

  • what you owe
  • an amount to cover your energy use.

Once we agree to a payment plan, we will send you information including:

  • who you can contact for more help how long the payment plan will go for
  • the amount you will pay each time
  • how many payments you need to make
  • when you need to make your payments (this is also called the frequency of the payments)
  • how we worked out your payments.

You can choose to use Centrepay, if you are eligible.

Centrepay is a free service you can use to help pay your bills. Centrepay can automatically take an amount of money from your Centrelink payments to go toward energy bills and expenses.

Alternatively, if you aren’t eligible for CentrePay, we will be happy to give you more information on our other payment options.

We will see if another energy plan may be better for you. If you agree, we can transfer you to a better energy plan for free.

Depending on the rules in our hardship policy, we may be able to remove some debt, fees or charges you owe.

Monitoring and reviewing our customer’s energy plan and Regular Payment Plan

If at any point, our customers fail to make a payment by the date on which it was payable and they’re having difficulty keeping up with their payments, we ask that our customers contact us so we can discuss their options. We may be able to renegotiate a Regular Payment Plan by varying the instalment amount or frequency of instalment amounts. If we don’t hear from our customers, we will contact them to discuss putting forward a revised payment proposal. We will continue to provide our customers with assistance, provided they remain engaged with us. That’s why it’s important to contact us should any circumstances change at any time.

The Hardship Assistance team will check to see whether a customer’s energy plan is the best fit for their needs and will let them know if there might be a more suitable energy plan.

We also recognise that not all customers will contact us if they experience further financial difficulties, so we’ll periodically review Regular Payment Plans to ensure customers are on track with their payments and if anything changes, we will make contact.

If you miss a payment, we will contact you to see if you need help. We will contact you by SMS, phone and/or letter on at least two occasions in order to allow you to respond. These contacts will be

  • two days after the payment due date
  • Seven days after first contact attempt

These payment options are broadly managed by our Credit and Hardship teams.

  • What you must do

Tell us if your situation changes and you can no longer make the payments in your plan. We can then review your payment arrangements.

Tell us if your contact details change.

Where customers are facing changes in their circumstances or are unable to propose a suitable payment arrangement, we will work together to determine how best to adjust the arrangement so that it’s achievable. This might include accepting payments of different amounts at different time periods, extending the repayment period, or increasing the time a customer has to reduce their energy usage if appropriate.

Hardship is available to all of our residential electricity customers who are facing hardship or payment difficulties and have an active account that is being billed by Electricity in a Box.

However, if a customer is not facing payment difficulty or is not willing to work with us and meet their commitments, they may be removed from our Hardship Assistance Program.

Any decision to stop hardship assistance is a difficult one, and one that we don’t take lightly. As part of our mutual commitments we must actively work together to ensure that our customers receive the best possible assistance. This means we will uphold our commitments but in turn, we require our customers to do the same, by taking reasonable action towards making their agreed payments.

We will use our best endeavours to contact customers who have failed to meet their Regular Payment Plan. This will give us an opportunity to discuss whether the current arrangement is fair and affordable, or whether we can agree on a different and more suitable Regular Payment Plan.

We may stop helping you if you:

  • stop making payments under your plan
  • do not tell us when your contact details change.

If you have had two payment plans cancelled in the last 12 months because you did not follow your plan:

  • we do not have to offer you another plan
  • we might disconnect your energy

When customers fail to make their scheduled payments and do not respond to our communication attempts, they may be removed from the Hardship Assistance Program for non-participation. Customers may resume the program if they re-engage. If they don’t uphold their commitments again, we may have no other option but to refuse re-entry onto the Hardship Assistance Program.

When a customer is removed from the Hardship Assistance Program for non-participation, they will be placed back into the standard collections process and may, as a last resort, face disconnection of their energy supply. This is a situation we hope to avoid.

3. Other supports to help you pay your energy bill

Depending on the state or territory you live in, there are other supports to help you pay your energy bills.

  • What we will do

We will tell you about other ways you can get help to pay your energy bill, such as:

  • government relief schemes
  • energy rebates
  • concession programs
  • financial counselling services.
  • What we need you to do

If you find out you are eligible for these programs, let us know as soon as possible so we can help you.

4.    Our programs and services

As a hardship customer, you can access a range of programs and services to help you.

We provide our customers with fair, flexible and affordable payment options. These options include the following minimum forms of assistance to help avoid getting into and accruing further debt:

  • Making payments of an equal amount over a specified period
  • Making payments at different intervals
  • Making payments towards energy usage in advance
  • Arranging payment extensions for when a customer can’t pay their current bill by the due date. Payment extensions give our customers the flexibility to pay-off their account in a lump sum or by instalments before their next bill being issued.

For those customers who can pay for their ongoing energy usage, but perhaps need assistance paying off their debt, we can work together to design a payment arrangement.

To start with, we can give our customers information about their pattern of energy use, what this is likely to cost in the future, and how this cost may be lowered. We will provide advice on government or non-government assistance that may be available and will suggest suitable repayment options based on our customer’s situation for them to consider.

Once our customers have this information, they’ll be in a good place to propose a suitable payment arrangement that will allow them to get their energy bills back in control within a maximum of one year. And remember, we’re available to provide advice on how this can be achieved, if needed.

Our customers can propose payment amounts and a schedule based on their circumstances. Where possible, we encourage customers to propose an arrangement that will at least cover their on-going energy usage. However, if they can’t afford to pay for their ongoing usage, we have options to agree on a lower amount.

  • What we will do

We will consider your individual situation to find the right programs (e.g. concession programs) or services that meet your needs.

Our Hardship team will provide our customers with timely information and advice about any assistance they may be eligible for and support them through the application process including any paperwork.

  • Following are the grant and rebates programs you can access:

QLD Customers

  • Electricity Concession
  • Reticulated Natural Gas
  • Electricity Life Support Concession Scheme
  • Medical Cooling and Heating Electricity Concession
  • Home Energy Assistance Scheme (HEAS)

For more information visit – www.qld.gov.au/community/cost-of-living-support/concessions/energy- concessions

NSW Customers

  • NSW Low Income Household Rebate
  • Life Support Rebates
  • Medical Energy Rebate
  • Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA)

For more information visit – www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au/energyconsumers/financial- assistance/rebates

TAS Customers

  • Annual Electricity Concession
  • Heating allowance
  • Life support concession
  • Medical cooling and heating concession

For more information visit – http://www.concessions.tas.gov.au/concessions/electricity_and_heating

SA Customers

  • Cost of living concession
  • Medical heating and cooling concession

For more information visit – https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/care-and-support/financial-support/concessions

You can contact the following financial counselling services for further assistance.

New South Wales

  • Money Smart – 1800 007 007
  • Catholic Care Sydney – 13 18 19
  • Wesley Financial Counseling – 1300 827 638

Queensland

  • Central Queensland Financial Counseling Service – +61 7 49 281 844
  • Uniting Care Community – +61 7 3253 4000
  • St Vincent de Paul – +61 7 3010 1096

Tasmania

  • Anglicare TAS – 1800 243 232
  • Rural Financial Counselling Service Tasmania – +61 3 6334 2768

South Australia

  • The South Australian Financial Counsellors Association – 1800 007 007
  • Medisec Financial Advisor – +61 8 8377 7795
  • Financial counselling services

Financial counsellors can support customers to better manage their finances and can represent the customer in discussions with Electricity in a Box. We can refer customers to accredited financial counselling agencies who offer their services at no cost to the customer.

Financial counsellors can contact the Hardship team directly on behalf on their clients on 1300 933 039 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm AEST).

5.    We want to check you have the right energy plan

  • What we will do

When you join our hardship program, we will talk to you about your energy use and whether you are on the right plan.

If we think there is a better energy plan for you, we will:

  • explain why the plan is better
  • ask if you’d like to transfer to the new plan for free.

We will only talk to you about energy plans we can offer.

6.    We can help you save energy

Using less energy can save you money.

  • What we will do

When you join our hardship program, we can give you tips to use less energy. This can be different depending on the state or territory you live in.

We will also provide practical assistance to customers on how they can become more energy efficient and to understand how they are tracking towards lowering those costs.

  • Energy efficiency information and audits

A key step in taking control of an energy account is by understanding energy use, energy costs and how to use energy more efficiently. To help, we monitor the energy usage patterns of our Hardship Assistance Program customers to ensure they are on the energy plan most likely to minimise their energy costs and provide assistance and information to help reduce those costs. Hardship Assistance Program customers can receive advice on how their energy usage and home appliances impact their energy bills. In some cases, this will be done through phone consultation or in-home energy efficiency visits, completed by our community partners at no cost to the customer.

We like to recognise the efforts of customers who actively engage with our Hardship Assistance Program. That is why, in some circumstances where the customer has been actively participating in the program, we may replace a particularly inefficient (and high energy use) household appliance at no cost to the customer.

  • Putting debt on hold

It can take time to put into action ways to reduce our customer’s energy usage. To manage this, Hardship Assistance Program customers who cannot pay for their ongoing energy usage can have the repayment of their debt put on hold for an initial period of six months. This gives us time to work with our customers to lower their energy costs and let them implement the recommended measures while also making payments towards their on-going energy usage. While unpaid usage amounts are added to our customer’s outstanding balance, we’ll be working with our customers to try and help reduce their usage costs.

7.    We will work with you

If you have joined our hardship program, we will not:

  • charge late payment fees
  • require a security deposit
  • make changes to your plan without your agreement. For example, we will not put you on a shortened collection cycle unless you agree first.

We want customers on our Hardship Assistance Program to feel supported. That’s why they aren’t charged paper bill fees, merchant fees or asked for security deposits.

Also, customers on the Hardship Assistance Program will not lose any pay-on-time discounts if they miss the due date of their bill or Regular Payment Plan instalments.

8.    Graduation from Hardship Assistance

The ultimate goal of our Hardship Assistance Program is to set our customers up so that they can independently and effectively manage their energy costs and get things back on track. Once a customer is no longer in a position of hardship or financial difficulty, they will graduate from the program and return to our standard billing and collection terms.

9.    Our commitment

Electricity in a Box is committed to make it easier for our customers to stay on track and in control of their energy bills.

We strive to:

  • Treat our customers with respect and empathy
  • Provide our customers with timely assistance and information
  • Provide information to our customers on how to increase energy efficiency to manage energy usage and costs
  • Facilitate ongoing training of our staff
  • Maintain strong relationships with community stakeholders

We will

  • Handle each situation with respect and empathy
  • Act fairly and reasonably having regard to our customers’ circumstances
  • Offer our customers the most suitable energy plan
  • Ensure our customers don’t lose any pay-on-time discounts for late payments
  • Work with our customers to develop a sustainable payment plan
  • Review payment plans to make sure our customers are on track
  • Make sure our customers have information on relevant concessions, government and non-government assistance/grants
  • Let our customers know where they can get free independent financial counselling in their area
  • Provide our customers with tips on energy efficiency and ways to reduce energy costs
  • Ensure energy supply remains connected while we continue to work together
  • Work with our customers to create a suitable payment plan
  • Inform our customers of the agreed payment dates to ensure they pay on time and in full

If our customers are having difficulty with payments, we ask that our customers let us know so can work together to get them back on track. Therefore, it is important that our customers keep in contact and let us know if their circumstances or contact details change.

We understand that the causes of hardship or payment difficulty are unique to each situation, and there are no one size fits all solutions. That is why the Hardship Assistance Program is tailored to suit our customers’ individual needs and circumstances.

10.        Family violence protocol

Whenever Electricity in a Box staff suspect that a customer may be affected by family violence, they will refer them to the Hardship team to offer the support outlined in this document if needed. We understand that these circumstances are sensitive and complex, which is why our Hardship team undertakes ongoing training in this area and handles information in accordance with the relevant privacy requirements.

11.        Complaints

We want to do everything we can to make this program work for our customers and we will do what we can to resolve their concerns.

If a customer has a complaint about the Hardship Assistance Program, we will do our best to work towards an early resolution. If this isn’t possible, our Customer Resolutions team is available on 1300 933 039 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm AEST).

Customers who are unhappy with the outcome of our complaint process can contact the Energy & Water Ombudsman of in their state or territory to request a free and independent review.

12.        Privacy

Electricity in a Box is fully committed to respecting our customer’s privacy. We protect the personal information of our customers in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Commonwealth) and the National Privacy Principles.

More information can be found in our Privacy Policy – visit electricityinabox.com.au/privacy-policy or call us on 1300 933 039 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm AEST).