The first step in balancing your budget is to look at all your debts and expenses, and explore ways to reduce them. It can feel overwhelming to face a pile of bills, but if you are having trouble paying, several options are available.
I was embarrassed to ask for help, but it was a bad time for me to get sick. Getting help paying my water rates was much appreciated. I’m now on the mend and the future looks good.
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If you are finding it difficult to cover the cost of your utilities, such as electricity, gas, water, phone or internet, the following options may help.
Learn how to:
- Apply for hardship programs
- Check if you can get a rebate or concession
- Ask about payment vouchers and grants
- Register for an energy efficiency program
Most utility providers are required by law to offer flexible payment options to customers who are having trouble paying their bills. Check whether your utility companies have hardship programs.
How a hardship program works will vary according to the individual service provider. They may consider setting up a payment plan that will allow you to pay later (deferring the payment) or to pay several smaller amounts over a period of time (paying by instalments). The details are usually available on the company’s website, or you can call them and ask for a copy of their hardship policy to be sent to you.
Once you register with a hardship program and are actively participating (e.g. by paying something off your bill), your supply cannot be disconnected.
→ To find out more about registering with a hardship program, contact your service provider.
Rebates and concessions can reduce the amount you owe on your utility bills. They are usually available to customers on low incomes, people receiving certain Centrelink payments, and some concession card holders. Special rebates may be available to customers who are medically unable to regulate their body temperature, or who need to use certain essential medical equipment (such as an oxygen concentrator) at home.
→ Contact your provider to apply for a rebate or concession on your electricity, gas or water bill.
In most states and territories, customers in financial hardship can receive payment assistance vouchers or grants to put towards their utility bills. These may be distributed through community welfare agencies such as the Salvation Army, or directly by the relevant state or territory government department.
→ Get in touch with a participating community organisation or the relevant government department – for contact details, see the list of rebates and vouchers at moneysmart.gov.au (type “utility bills” into the search bar).
You can reduce your power and water bills by changing how and when you use energy. Some states and territories offer free energy and water efficiency assessments to help customers find ways to reduce their usage. They may also offer assistance with energy-saving or water-saving repairs and alterations, such as a reduced fee for a plumber to fix your leaking taps.
→ Visit yourenergysavings.gov.au for energy-saving tips and to find assistance in your state or territory. You can also download the Light Bulb Saver app from the App Store (Apple phone) or Google Play (Android phones) to help you calculate how much money you can save by using energy efficient alternatives.
Many local councils have a rate assistance or rebate policy for people in financial hardship. You may be able to:
- claim a concession rate – available to holders of a Centrelink Concession Card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card
- negotiate a payment plan – to pay your rates by instalments
- write off interest charges on overdue rates
- defer part or all of your rates and charges for a period of time.
→ Contact your local council to find out how they might be able to help you manage payment of your rates. Most councils will ask you to put your request in writing. It may be tempting to ignore your council rates, but if you do not pay them on time, the council is entitled to charge you interest on the amount you owe.
Keith Manchester, Senior Legal Counsel, Financial Services Legal, AMP, NSW; Alka Bisen, Financial Counsellor and Project Coordinator – Financial Assistance Services, Cancer Council NSW; Patricia Dunn, Consumer; Emily Gibson, Social Worker, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Michelle Ruchin, Social Worker, Cancer Council SA; Robert Simon, Technical Services Manager, Tapln and Technical Strategy, AMP Advice, NSW; Krystyna Wisniewski, Consumer.
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