QCOSS is exploring the experiences and outcomes for regional Queensland households who cannot pay their water bills due to financial hardship. In this report, we identify the hardship provisions applicable to regional water providers in Queensland, as well as the hardship support being offered in practice.
Currently, water providers in regional areas are permitted to take punitive action against people who do not pay their water bills. This includes charging interest or taking legal action, without any regard to whether the customer is experiencing hardship.
Further to this, because water services are primarily provided by local councils in regional Queensland, relevant legislation bundle rates and water charges together. As a result, local councils have the authority to sell a person’s property to recover water debt if it remains unpaid for three years.
This represents a clear disparity in the treatment of people across the state – with water customers in South-East Queensland who may be experiencing financial hardship being guaranteed access to hardship policies, flexible payment plans and interest waivers that regional Queenslanders are not.
Unfortunately, the scale of this problem is unknown as there are no indicators within the relevant reporting frameworks to monitor the incidence of customers experiencing financial hardship.