50,000 Victorians received energy bill assistance during COVID-19

A report by the state energy regulator has revealed that more than 50,000 Victorians received bill relief during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Essential Services Commission (ESC) 2019-20 annual Energy Market Report stated that despite large customer numbers requiring financial assistance, the industry has been generally supportive to consumers.

ESC Chairperson, Kate Symons, said applications for government utility relief grants were in demand and that disconnections were put on hold during the height of the pandemic.

“There was a 73 per cent increase in utility relief grants with more than 50,000 applications being approved. The sector stopped disconnecting customers for non-payment in mid-April and also recognised that pursuing outstanding debts during restrictions was not appropriate,” she said.

Some of the key findings reported that no customers were disconnected between April and June 2020, while roughly 12,000 Victorians per week reached out to energy retailers for help.

Small businesses were also covered by new rules which gave them the same level of protection as residential customers.

“That retailers also voluntarily offered to help more than 3,000 small business customers with their bills is a positive sign the sector is responding to calls to rebuild trust with the community,” said Ms Symons.

Average number of residential customers missing bill payments

In June 2020, the average number of residential customers who had missed energy bill payments was 79,061 – a 20 per cent increase from three months earlier. Small business customers reached an average of 9,875 who missed electricity or gas bill payments in June 2020.

Debt statistics of Victorian customers

In 2019-20, the majority of electricity (56%) and gas (64%) customers were $500 or less in arrears with their retailer. Click Energy and Amaysim customers reported the highest percentage of energy customers with debt more than $2,500, at 26 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, out of the ‘big three’ providers, EnergyAustralia had the highest percentage of customers entering tailored assistance with $2,500 or more in arrears.

Customers who could not afford ongoing electricity usage owed an average of $1,508 – a 10 per cent increase from the previous year. Gas customers who couldn’t pay ongoing usage owed an average of $1,193 – a 14 per cent rise from the year prior.

What should customers do if they need energy bill relief?

For customers who are struggling to keep up with their energy bills, it’s important to get in touch with their retailer, who has an obligation to offer financial assistance said Canstar Blue Editor-in-Chief, Simon Downes.

“There is a magnitude of rules and regulations around energy providers offering support to their vulnerable customers, so it’s essential for anybody behind in bill payments to contact their retailer before the situation becomes unmanageable,” he said.

“In addition to retail law and guidelines, each company should be abiding by an energy hardship policy which outlines a range of protections for customers doing it tough, and these documents are usually found online. Rather than burying your head in the sand, seek help and remember to compare energy plans regularly to ensure you’re not stuck on a dud deal.”

Compare Energy Prices in Victoria

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest gas deals on our database for VIC. These estimated annual costs are based on the Australian Gas Network in Melbourne and yearly gas usage of 29,830MJ, but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest estimated cost. This table includes products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Image credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Share this article