West Australians struggling with cost-of-living pressures will get some relief after the State Government and Western Australian Council of Social Services renewed their partnership to help support people with their water bills.
The partnership, announced today by Water Minister Dave Kelly, between the Water Corporation and WACOSS will fund research for a further three years, to enhance tailored financial support to those experiencing financial hardship.
In the 2021-22 financial year, 5138 customers benefited from financial care packages at the publicly-owned water utility - which takes a proactive and empathetic approach to supporting customers - via a $4.7 million hardship funding program.
Latest WACOSS research shows that customers unable to pay their utility bills employed various strategies to cope financially, including reducing spending on food and groceries, and reduced spending on leisure activities.
The second way financial hardship presented itself was households restricting water and energy consumption to the detriment of health and wellbeing, despite bills being regularly paid and on time.
Informed by the research, Water Corporation is offering various flexible hardship programs, which can be tailored to meet different customer needs, circumstances, and repayment capacities.
These programs include placing accounts on hold for three months to support customers when circumstances unexpectedly change; regular, interest-free payment arrangements where Water Corporation matches any payment made by the customer (for an overdue amount over $750 and under $5000 assessed by a financial counsellor); and customers carrying out home dialysis or who qualify for the Continence Aids Payment Scheme receiving a free water allowance up to 30 kilolitres per household on every bill.
The research also highlighted the importance of early intervention to minimise debt accumulation.
Water Corporation will use data analytics to proactively contact customers who may be in hardship, with the most financially vulnerable customers managed by a specially trained Water Corporation financial care team.
Water Corporation will also fund financial counsellors through Vinnies' National Debt Helpline.
Unlike privately-owned utilities in the eastern states, water pricing in WA is set by the State government, meaning all residential customers pay the same for the first 150 kilolitres of water regardless of where they live.
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