Keeping up with regular payments like rent, electricity, and gas can be hard when money’s tight. If you’re having trouble paying bills, it’s good to understand your options and where to go if you need help.

Problems paying energy bills

Can’t pay your electricity, gas, phone or water bill? Contact your service provider right away. Your service provider will explain your options, such as:

  • An extension to pay your bills
  • Paying in instalments
  • Centrepay (a free and voluntary service to pay bills & expenses as regular deductions from your Centrelink payments)
  • Applying for a utility rebate or voucher 

Remember, getting ahead of the issue before it becomes a bigger problem is important. If you don’t contact your electricity, gas or phone provider, there’s a chance they’ll suspend or disconnect your service. Not paying your bills could also harm your credit score

What to ask your service provider:

  • Am I on the best plan for my usage?
  • Do you have an option to bill smooth by regular payments so seasonal bills don’t hit so hard?
  • Is there an option to go onto an instalment plan for my outstanding bills?
  • Can I delay a payment?
  • Am I eligible for any discounts, concessions or grants?
  • Can you help me identify any power-hungry appliances at home that I can moderate? Some utility companies partner with community agencies that do house calls and can help you assess.

If you’re not getting the help you need from the customer service department or have long-term financial issues, ask to speak with the hardship team. Some providers have ‘incentive payments’ or ‘payment matching,’ so for every regular instalment you make towards paying your bill, the provider will also contribute.

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Problems paying rent

Housing is likely to be your biggest living expense, so being unable to pay your rent can be stressful. The key is to act fast and let your property manager or landlord know about your situation. Your rent is paying for your housing and shelter, so if you’re struggling, here’s what to do:

1 – Make your rent your highest priority payment

Your rent pays for your home, so it should be the very first payment you make on payday. If you fall behind, continue paying whatever you can afford, return to regular payments and catch up on anything that’s been missed ASAP.

Hot tip: Can you get a utility relief grant to help pay your utility bills and free up money for rent? Otherwise, see if you can get food, transport, phone or chemist vouchers from an emergency relief service near you to free up money for rent. Try Ask Izzy for your closest service.

2 – If you’re receiving a Centrelink benefit

Before you do anything else, check to see if you’re eligible for Rent Assistance. These payments are income top-ups to make rent more affordable for low-income earners.

Next, arrange to have your rent taken from your payment through Centrepay. Your real estate agent will need to be registered with Centrepay.

Are you eligible for a Centrelink advance payment? These interest-free loans are available to people on a Centrelink income. If you use an advance payment to pay rent, you need to be able to afford both your current rent and the additional fortnightly repayments on the Centrelink advance. You’ll need to manage on a reduced income until the advanced amount is repaid. 

3 – Reach out to your property manager or landlord

If you can see you’re about to go into arrears for whatever reason, contact your property manager or landlord and let them know you want to negotiate a repayment plan.

Explain your circumstances and ask them to consider your hardship. Use this conversation to explain how you’ll be able to pay the ongoing rent and catch up on any missed rental payments.

Make sure your contact and negotiations are in writing, so you have a record of what happened. If you have an initial phone call, confirm the conversation in writing by email. 

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4 – Get in touch with your local tenancy service

Can’t agree with your property manager or landlord, or been served a notice to vacate? Call your nearest Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service for free information and advice. They’ll be able to give you advice about what to do with your circumstances. 

The great thing about these services is that they will know exactly what’s happening in your area. They should be able to give you tips on negotiating with your property manager and what to do if you can’t agree. Use the contacts on this page to get started. 

Problems paying insurance premiums

Insurance membership arrears for things like health and car can occur when you’re not up to date with your payments. If you get too far behind on your payments, your fund may cancel your policy, and you risk facing waiting periods when you rejoin.

Health funds won’t pay benefits towards hospital treatments or ancillary services unless your payments are up to date.

How to avoid insurance payment arrears

  • If your fund notifies you that you’re in arrears, act on it immediately.
  • Most funds require you to pay your premiums in advance, giving you some leeway if you fall behind in your payments by up to a few weeks.
  • Do you pay your premiums by regular direct debit from a bank account or credit card? Check your statements to ensure the payments are debiting correctly. 

If you struggle to keep up with your payments because of a temporary problem, talk to your insurance provider to see if they’ll agree to a payment plan. If you find you’re in arrears, contact the fund and explain what’s going on. Pay the arrears owed if you wish to maintain the policy. If you can’t negotiate a suitable outcome, consider contacting the Ombudsman for advice and assistance. 

Problems paying bills and fines

You may be tempted to ignore unexpected fines that rock up in the mail because of other pressing bills, but the consequences of not paying them can be severe. 

Fines are different to other debts because these are penalties imposed by the government for breaking the law, and not paying may result in losing your driver’s licence or imprisonment.

Use these steps if you’re struggling to pay your fines:

1 – What are your repayment options?

How you deal with fines will change depending on which state/territory you call home. If in doubt, contact your local enforcement agency to find out what options are available to you. Search ‘Fines VIC’, for example.

Hot tip: Fines generally fall into one of two categories: Infringement notices or on-the-spot fines issued by the police, a transit officer, parking inspector or council ranger: These fines will end up in court if they’re unpaid or challenged. The other type is fines the court orders you to pay. 

Generally speaking, you get 28 days to pay or dispute that you owe the fine. If you don’t do anything, you risk being issued a penalty reminder notice and additional costs. If you know you can’t pay the fine in full by the due date, go to the next step.

2 – What can you afford to repay?

If you can afford to repay something, start paying the amount you can afford and get in touch with your creditor to put a repayment plan in place. Contact the National Debt Helpline for advice if you can’t afford anything. 

3 – Contact the issuing enforcement agency

Ask the agency for a payment plan based on what you can afford to pay. If they agree, make your repayments as soon as possible and stick to the agreement.

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