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If you’re one of thousands of people who has lost income due to COVID-19, you might be finding it hard to pay your bills. Here are some tips to help you get back on track.
As COVID-19 lockdowns continue across much of eastern Australia, many people have once again found themselves out of work. Those working in service industries, and casual workers in particular, are doing it tough, and your cash reserves may be getting low.
If you’re feeling the pressure of mounting bills, it can be very stressful. But there is help at hand. Depending on your situation, you could be eligible for government financial support. And, you can always negotiate an arrangement with your suppliers that lets you hang onto your cash while you weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where should I start?
1. Speak to your utility providers
If you’re having trouble paying your bills, such as your power, gas or water, contact your service provider straight away. Utility companies are legally required to assist customers experiencing financial hardship, and can be helpful in finding a solution.
They may be able to offer you options, such as:
more time to pay (an extension)
an instalment plan
advice on whether you’re on the best plan for your usage
checking whether you’re eligible for any discounts, concessions or grants.
Make sure you get in touch as quickly as possible. If you delay, your services could be disconnected.
If you rent, get in touch with your landlord or real estate agent and let them know about your situation. Ask to reduce or defer your payments for a month, so you have time to come up with a solution. Put your request in writing, so that you can show you’ve made attempts to find a resolution. If they agree, make sure to get their response in writing too.
If you have a mortgage, get in touch with your lender. All mortgage providers are aware that certain customers are experiencing financial difficulty due to COVID-19. Your lender will have a financial hardship team ready to work with you to find a solution. Some options include changing your loan term, pausing, or reducing your repayments for a period of time. Be aware that if you defer your repayments you’ll still need to repay the total loan balance, plus any interest that accrues during the deferment period.
3. Check whether you’re eligible for any government assistance
Household Relief no interest loan
If you’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19, you could be eligible for a Household Relief no interest loan of up to $3000. The loans are designed to help you pay your utility bills, bond or rent, council rates or body corporate fees. You can have up to 24-months to repay the loan and you only have to pay back what you borrowed (no interest), so it’s an affordable way to access credit.
COVID-19 Hardship support hotline
You can also get help from the COVID-19 Hardship support hotline. This confidential, free service is available to any Australian who has been financially affected by COVID-19. Give them a call if you’d like to know what financial support is available to you, including a no interest loan. They can also review your household budget, help you access financial hardship arrangements or give you a referral to an in-house financial counsellor. You can call the hotline from 9am-7pm AEST, Monday-Friday on 1300 121 130.
Utility rebates and concessions
Every state and territory government has a range of rebates and support available to help low income households pay their energy and water bills. If you’re receiving the JobSeeker payment, and/or have an eligible Commonwealth concession card or health care card, you may be eligible. The aid on offer varies from state to state, so check with your utility provider or state government:
The NSW and Victorian governments have introduced a range of payments to support people affected by COVID-19 lockdowns. This includes COVID-19 disaster payments, Test and Isolate payments and Extreme Hardship payments. You can find details for NSW government payments here and Victorian government payments here.
Worrying about money can take a real toll on your mental health, so don’t delay taking action. If you’re struggling to make ends meet and experiencing financial hardship, you can also speak to a financial counsellor.