Problems paying your bills and council rates

Help is out there

Electricity, gas, water, phone bills and your rates can be difficult to pay if you don't have spare money in the bank. Here are the steps you can take if you are struggling to pay your bills.

Contact your provider

Smart tip

Talk to your provider about your bills rather than putting them on your credit card and running up a big debt.

If you're having trouble paying a utility or rates bill the first thing you should do is contact your provider. Most utility providers and councils have hardship officers who can help you work out a plan to pay the bill in instalments.

If your utility provider is not helpful, you can  make a complaint to one of the state-based utility ombudsman schemes.

Council rates

When it comes to your rates, most councils will ask you to put your request for hardship in writing. Depending on your circumstances, your council might:

  • allow you to pay your rates by instalments
  • write off any interest charges on overdue rates
  • defer part or all of your rates and charges for a certain period of time
  • waive, reduce or defer your rates if a land revaluation caused them to increase, and this has caused you substantial hardship.

If you don't pay your council rates on time, or don't contact the council to discuss other options, the council is entitled to charge you a penalty which is usually interest on the amount that you owe.

Apply for a utility bill rebate or voucher

Rebates and vouchers can help you pay your utility bills. This list shows you what vouchers are available and where to go to apply for them.


Rebates and vouchers Utility
Department of Human Services: Advance Payment  13 62 40 all
Department of Human Services: Utilities Allowance   13 62 40 electricity, water, sewerage rates
Department of Human Services: Telephone Allowance  13 62 40 telephone
Department of Human Services: Essential Medical Equipment Payment  13 62 40 electricity
Telstra Bill Assistance Program   13 2200  telephone
Telstra: Pensioner discount  13 2200 telephone

Australian Capital Territory

Rebates and vouchers Utility

Department of Community Services: Energy Concession  
Actew AGL Retail 13 14 93
Origin Country Energy 13 24 61
Energy Australia 13 34 66

electricity, gas

New South Wales

Rebates and vouchers Utility
Trade & Investment Resources & Energy: Low Income Household Rebate  1300 736 122 electricity, gas
Trade & Investment Resources & Energy: Family Energy Rebate 1300 736 122 electricity
Water Payment Assistance Scheme
Sydney Water: Financial assistance  13 20 92
Hunter Water: Payment assistance  1300 657 657


Rebates and vouchers Utility
Department of Communities: Electricity and gas rebates  13 74 68 electricity, gas
Department of Communities: Medical cooling and heating electricity concession scheme  13 74 68 electricity
Department of Communities: Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme  13 74 68 electricity, gas
Department of Communities: Electricity life support  
13 74 68

South Australia

Rebates and vouchers Utility
Department Communities and Social Inclusion: Residential Park Resident Concessions 1800 307 758 electricity, gas, water, council rates
Department Communities and Social Inclusion: Energy concessions 1800 307 758 electricity, gas
Department of Communities and Social Inclusion: Water and sewerage rates  1800 307 758 water, sewerage rates


Rebates and vouchers Utility
Department of Human Services: Utility Relief Grant Scheme 
1800 658 521
Department of Human Services: Annual Electricity Concession  
1800 658 521
Department of Human Services: Life Support Machine Electricity Concession  1800 658 521 electricity
Department of Human Services: Medical Cooling Concession  
1800 658 521
Department of Human Services: Winter Energy Concession  
1800 658 521
Department of Human Services: Service to Property Charge Concession  1800 658 521 electricity
Department of Human Services: Electricity Transfer Fee Waiver  
1800 658 521
Department of Human Services: Water and Sewerage Concession  
1800 658 521
water, sewerage rates
Department of Human Services: Non-mains water rebate  
1800 658 521

Western Australia

Rebates and vouchers Utility
Concessions WA: Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme (HUGS)   (08) 9222 2739 electricity, gas, water

See a financial counsellor

Financial counsellors offer a free, confidential service to help you sort out your money problems. They may help you approach your utility provider or council to work out a payment plan or apply for vouchers. Find out more about financial counsellors and what they do.

If you're in a crisis and need emergency relief or emotional support see our urgent money help webpage. 

Smooth out your bills

Companies such as AGL offer 'bill smoothing' where you can make fortnightly or monthly payments towards your future utility bill so it is not so painful when the big bill comes. Ask your provider if they offer this service and how it is set up.

Centrepay is a voluntary bill-paying service which is free for Centrelink customers. Use Centrepay to arrange regular deductions from your Centrelink payment for ongoing expenses like rent, childcare, electricity and water as well as other household costs. To find out more see Department of Human Services' Centrepay.

Find out more about smoothing your bills.

Make a complaint

If your utility provider won't help you, you can complain to one of the ombudsman schemes below.
Energy and Water Ombudsman Services in each state provide advice and conciliation services for consumers with complaints about energy or water providers.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (1800 062 058) is a free, national independent dispute resolution scheme for complaints about phone or internet services.

Reduce your utility usage

If your utility bills are bigger than they should be perhaps you can look at ways to reduce your usage. See our simple ways to save on your power and water bills

Take action before your bills pile up and remember that it is in your provider's interest to help you with any bill problems.

Related links

Last updated: 12 Feb 2019