Financial hardship leaves Louisa facing restriction of supply
Louisa called EWON to ask where she could go to get a water Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) voucher, as she couldn’t afford to pay the $790 outstanding on her account. She explained that she had received a restriction notice from her water provider a couple of weeks earlier, but she couldn’t contact the provider at the time as her phone wasn’t working. Louisa wasn’t certain if her supply had been restricted, but she did think the water pressure had dropped.
We referred Louisa to several community agencies in her local area. We explained that community workers can now phone her water provider to discuss PAS and that the agreed amount of PAS is then be applied to the customer’s account directly. Then we contacted the provider to request a hold on Louisa’s account while she was seeking PAS and called Louisa to let her know the hold was in place.
At that point Louisa revealed that she was struggling with her bills because a building fault had caused damage to her bathroom that she was having to pay to get fixed. Her bank card had also been skimmed and she was unable to buy Christmas food for her family.
EWON arranged for the hardship assistance team at Louisa’s provider to call her directly to discuss PAS and the provider offered to apply $600 in PAS to her account. It also gave her a payment extension on the $190 still owing andarranged for a plumber to come out to assess her bathroom and plumbing at no charge.
Louisa was very grateful and thanked EWON for our assistance.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, referral to community agency and PAS, plumbing assistance. Issues: Financial hardship, supply restriction
Betty's story Water provider denies claim for expensive plumbing works
Betty spent over $31,000 on plumbing works to fix flooding and sewerage problems on her property. She believed these problems were caused by her water provider altering the underground water course when they decommissioned her septic system and connected her house to the sewerage system. Water and sewage were pooling on her property, resulting in damp that had extended into her house, causing a large mould problem and property damage.
Betty lodged a claim with her water provider to cover the plumbing expenses, but this was denied on the grounds that they did not consider they were responsible for the damage. Betty was unhappy with this outcome so she contacted EWON for help.
The water provider considered it had already done everything it could to prove that they were not responsible, so they requested that EWON seek the opinion of an independent expert. EWON engaged a geotechnical engineer, who reviewed all the available information and conducted an onsite visit to assess whether the sewerage system upgrade could have altered the water course. The independent engineer concluded that the water course was not altered by the water provider’s sewerage upgrade and identified suspected interference to the sewerage system by a neighbouring property.
EWON’s investigation concluded that the water retailer’s denial of Betty’s claim was appropriate in the circumstances because the installation of the new sewerage system had not caused the pooled water and sewer deposit issues surrounding Betty’s house.
Although this was not a favorable outcome for Betty, the independent expert’s advice was finally able to give her an understanding that her water retailer was not responsible for the damage to her property.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: No further investigation, insufficient grounds. Issues: Compensation, property damage.
Joseph's story: disconnection
Customer’s supply restricted after losing his income
Joseph contacted EWON for help after his water supply was restricted and he was facing disconnection of his electricity supply.
Joseph had paid $1476 towards his electricity account two months ago and had obtained $150 in EAPA*, but he still owed $570. Before his water was restricted he owed $258 and had made a payment of $125, but he then received another bill for $600.
Joseph explained he was supporting a family and was struggling to make mortgage repayments. He had always paid his bills on time in the past but he had recently lost his job and was now relying on a Centrelink benefit until he found new employment. Joseph asked EWON if we could negotiate with the retailers for a short term payment arrangement of $20 per fortnight until he was able to get back on his feet.
Given the circumstances, the retailers agreed to the payment plan if Joseph set up a Centrepay arrangement. We emphasised to Joseph that the retailers would review the arrangement in three months, as the amount he was paying would not be enough to cover his consumption costs.
Joseph said he was happy to be contacted directly by the retailers. The water provider reconnected his supply and the electricity retailer offered to place him on their customer assistance program and arrange a home energy audit.
*Energy Accounts Payment Assistance
Unable to pay his water bill, customer lives with restricted supply
Mark is a single parent raising three children, living on a low income. His employment is sporadic and he constantly struggles to pay his bills. When Mark contacted EWON for help, his family was living with a restricted water supply.*
He said he owed thousands of dollars and was deeply embarrassed about his circumstances and concerned about its impact on his children. However, he felt it was time to deal with the problem.
We contacted the water provider who confirmed Mark’s arrears had reached nearly $11,000, including over $3,000 in interest and a debt of $3,300 that was transferred on purchase of the property. Although the water provider had restricted Mark’s supply on several occasions, consumption levels indicated unauthorised reconnection had occurred each time. The water provider acknowledged Mark’s financial hardship and the fact he was actively seeking to take responsibility for the account and to resolve the situation.
Mark’s financial situation was assessed by a financial counsellor. The water provider reconnected supply and agreed to a significant payment in Payment Assistance Scheme vouchers on the account, providing that Mark made regular $100 fortnightly payments over the next three months. The water provider also arranged for a plumber to fix leaks at Mark’s property free of charge. Mark accepted the water provider’s offer and agreed to contact them immediately if he could not make a payment.
* For public health reasons, water companies do not generally cut off supply. They usually restrict the water supply to allow only a very limited flow to the property.
Kara's story: Non-payment leads to water restriction
Water restriction imposed when customer fails to meet payment plan
Kara called EWON when her water supply was restricted. She owed her water provider $1,760 and had received restriction warning notices but was unable to pay her bills as she had recently lost her business, had no income, and was in serious financial difficulty.
She had previously agreed to pay her water provider $100 per fortnight but had not been able to keep to this arrangement and instead had been paying around $50 a fortnight. EWON called Kara’s water provider to discuss reconnecting her supply and was advised that they required an upfront payment of $815 to cover her missed payments and consumption over the past 6 months.
Kara could only afford to pay $200 and so EWON referred her to the Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) available through the community agencies in her area. Her water provider liaised with the community agency to authorise additional PAS above the usual limit, given Kara’s extreme circumstances. She obtained $700 in PAS vouchers and was referred to Centrelink to discuss her financial situation.
Kara agreed to commit to a $100 a month payment plan with all future bills payable when due and was relieved to have her water restriction lifted that day.
Aletha's story: sewerage overflow problem persists for years
Sewage overflow in heavy rain affects Aletha’s home and neighbourhood for years
Whenever there was heavy rainfall, the sewerage system in Aletha’s neighbourhood would overflow from a manhole in the street. This would cause raw sewage to flood the outside areas of the property where Aletha lives with her 92 year old mother and cause their toilet, shower and basins to fail.
For many years, Aletha had been trying without success to have the water provider resolve this issue at her mother’s property. The problem was causing significant disruption and health concerns; the overflow events would force them to wade through ankle-deep sewage to vacate the house for several days at a time. Aletha was aware that a number of neighbours were also affected. The water provider had advised Aletha five years earlier that the overflow problem was caused by an elbow in their pipework and that plans for an extension to the system to address the issue were approved, with funding pending.
Aletha explained that she was at her wits’ end when she called EWON for assistance.
We discussed the matter with the water provider, who confirmed they were aware of the issue affecting Aletha and her neighbours. They explained that the completion of remedial works would require development and approval of drawings, submissions and a business plan. While they regretted the impact of the overflows on the community, they said it was not possible for the company to reliably indicate a timeframe for the work.
We noted that although the problem had been identified back in 2007, no progress appeared to have been made. The provider acknowledged this and the matter was reviewed. Several months later, the remedial works were commenced.
Miriam's story: water supply not reinstated due to credit history
Miriam and Dave’s water is restricted due to non-payment and they are denied a payment plan
For three weeks the water supply at Miriam’s home was restricted due to non-payment of the $1120 owing on the account. Miriam and her husband Dave were experiencing financial hardship as Miriam’s work hours had been reduced and Dave’s employment had also been downgraded. Miriam considered they could manage a weekly payment plan of $150 and put this to the water company. When she contacted EWON, she explained that the company had declined any payment arrangement and required payment in full before they would reinstate the water supply.
EWON contacted the water company to discuss the case. We were advised that there was a history of debt collection on the account, that Miriam and Dave had been on the hardship program previously but hadn’t kept up payments and that their supply had been also been restricted before due to non-payment. On this basis the company required full payment of arrears.
We negotiated with the water provider, who agreed to reinstate the supply on payment of half of the total amount owing and a payment plan of $150 per week. Miriam and Dave accepted this arrangement and understood that they would be required to pay any debt in full if they were restricted again for non-payment.
We referred Miriam and Dave to a community agency where they could apply for PAS* vouchers and they were pleased to have their water supply restored.
* PAS – The water Payment Assistance Scheme providing vouchers and/or account credit to assist customers of certain water providers if they are experiencing financial hardship.