Disaster Legal Help Victoria

Your utilities include your electricity, your gas and water supply, and your telephone supply and connection.

Gas, electricity, and water outages

If you are having trouble with your service after a disaster, you will need to contact your retailer. Your retailer is the company that looks after connections, billing, and customer service.

If you are waiting for your electricity to be restored, it is important that you do not try to connect permanent generators to fixed house wiring yourself. Connecting generators yourself is both dangerous and illegal – they must be connected by a licensed electrician.

Moving out after a disaster

If you have moved because of a disaster, you need to contact your retailer to be connected at your new property. The connection should take place on a date you agree to or within 10 business days. If you are changing retailers, your new connection must be made within one to two business days. For more information, visit the 'Information for Consumers' section under Electricity and GasExternal Link or WaterExternal Link on the Essential Services Commission website.

Paying gas, electricity and water bills after a disaster

If you are having trouble paying your bill because of a disaster, tell your retailer as soon as you can. Your retailer should be able to help you set up a payment plan, and you might be able to get help under a hardship policy. You cannot be disconnected from services in this situation. The law says that each retailer must have a hardship policy that allows for:

  • agreement to fair and reasonable payment arrangements (for example, instalment plans)
  • suspending disconnection or any debt collection activity
  • telling you about concessions and government assistance (for example, grants), and how to get these.

For more information on how to avoid disconnection when you are having trouble with money, contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria on 1800 500 509 and read the Consumer Action Law Centre’s factsheets on Water debtExternal Link and Electricity and gas debtExternal Link . If you live in a caravan park, or a rooming or boarding house, you may have different rights. Contact the Tenants Advice Line on (03) 9416 2577 for more information.

Fixing problems with your gas, electricity or water connection

If you have experienced damage due to a power surge or from a power failure (for example, damage to appliances or food), you may be able to make a claim. Lodge a claim with your retailer if this has happened to you.

If you have tried to sort out a problem with your gas, electricity, or water company and it has not been resolved, contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria on 1800 500 509. They will contact the provider and ask them to try again. If you have tried to sort out the problem with your provider more than once, your matter can be investigated by the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria. This means a conciliator will manage your case, look at your situation, consider the law, and try to broker an agreement.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria is a free service, is independent of the government and the utilities companies, and can legally force the supplier to deal with your complaint. You must contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria within 12 months of the problem first arising.

Telephone and internet outages

Although Telstra is responsible for telephone lines in Victoria, you need to contact your telephone service provider (if it is not Telstra) about your damaged telephone line. If you have more than one phone socket in your home, you will need to contact a registered cabler to fix any other phone sockets, because your telephone service provider only has the responsibility to look after the first socket. In the case of internet outages, you should first contact your provider.

Paying telephone and internet bills after a disaster

If you are struggling to pay your telephone and internet bills due to a disaster, contact your provider and let them know. They may have special arrangements in place to help disaster-affected people. See if your provider can place a hold on your bill while you work together to find a way to pay off your debt. You may also want to see if you can pay your bill after it is due and/or pay your bill in instalments. The provider can ask for evidence of your financial hardship if you want to pay over a longer period.

You should always contact your telephone or internet provider when you are having trouble paying a bill. If you do not do this, your service might be disconnected or your credit record may be affected. However, your provider must not take collection action against you while you are discussing or undertaking a payment arrangement. If you disagree about a bill amount, ask the provider to investigate your bill and try to resolve it with them.

If you have a government concession card, you can get a discount on your utilities bill. Call your utilities provider and give them the details of your concession card. For information on other concessions and Utility Relief Grants, contact the Victorian Concessions Information Line on 1800 658 521.

Fixing problems with telephone or internet your connection

If you are experiencing a problem with your telephone or internet connection and you have already tried to sort it out with your provider, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on 1800 062 058. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is a free service that helps resolve disagreements between customers and utility providers. It is independent of the government and the telephone and internet companies. You must contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman within two years of the problem first happening.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman will contact your provider and ask that they try to fix the problem. Your provider has 10 days to investigate your situation and try to sort things out. It is up to you to contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman if the problem is not sorted out by this time. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman may then have an investigations officer look after your case. They will investigate the situation, work out the issues, and try to help you reach an agreement with your provider.

The law says that the telephone and internet companies must obey the decisions made by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. To find out more, visit the Telecommunications Industry OmbudsmanExternal Link website.

If you start getting bills for services that were offered for free after a disaster, like free mobile phones or a diversion service, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on 1800 062 058 or Disaster Legal Help Victoria on 1800 113 432.

Where to get help

For legal information and referrals, call Disaster Legal Help Victoria on 1800 113 432 (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm). You can also contact your closest community legal centreExternal Link to get advice from a local lawyer.

For more support options, see Other organisations that can helpExternal Link or find Other ways to contact usExternal Link .

Reviewed 16 November 2023