I am writing to ask for help in relation of unfair charges I encountered with the late payment of water bills from the Western Australian Water Corporation. I think I remember that you have been able to have some big organizations change their approach to the fees they charge for late payments.
The WA Water Corporation Rules cause the loss of concession to be quietly rolled over into what they call a ‘deferred payment’ and which sits as a charge against the property until either paid in full or the property is sold and it is claimed as a debt against the sale.
As a pension card holder I am entitled to a concession on parts of my bill but this concession is lost if the bill is not paid in full within a specified time frame.
The amounts lost are significant.
In 2019 I was away on an extended trip and encountered $340.91 in deferred charges made up of two events – 2019 September late payment $190.81 and 2019 November underpayment by one cent $150.10.
I have raised this matter with my local member who was not prepared to take any action.
I recently contacted the Power and Water Ombudsman who said that the issue is outside their jurisdiction.
The problem lies with the wording of the legislation and I would like to pursue this matter in a way that has a small part of the Legislation changed.
One wonders why concession card holders were targeted in the writing of the rules in the first place. I have not found another organization that treats late payments in such a way.
(Personal details removed for privacy) Moderator.
PS – supporting documents are available if and when required.
Certainly an unfortunate outcome. It’s always a challenge when away for extended periods to manage what is happening back home. We’ve found directing all billing to electronic delivery (not all stay at home consumers might see the need) is one option. Another is arranging a direct credit card payment option for the bills one knows will fall due while absent.
Information about deferred payments with WA Water Corporation can be found here:
As it appears you accidentally didn’t pay the water bill on time, WA Water Corporation provides information in the above link about what to do. Possibly WA Water Corporation should have been contacted immediately as they advise:
Contact us on 13 13 85 if you missed a payment due to circumstances outside of your control. For example, if you were in hospital at the time your bill was due.
Further to this, if you think a bill may be paid late, such as being away…
Need a little more time to pay your bill?
Do you want to keep your concession rebate but need a little more time to pay your bill? Call us on 1300 650 471 before your bill becomes overdue so that we can discuss your payment options.
This would have allowed you to address the payment along with keeping any concessions which would have existed.
The website also suggests that any deferred payments can be removed if paid in full…
If you want to pay your deferred charges earlier, you can pay these at any time. Once you’ve made a payment, contact us on 13 13 85 and we will allocate your payment to the deferred service charges. Otherwise, the payment will be applied as a credit to the amounts owing in your future bills.
It is also worth noting that
No interest is charged on service charges held in deferment.
It is possible that discounts are removed since any accrued deferment of payments don’t incur interest. This is particular advantageous to those who may defer for very long time, as the real cost of a deferred amount reduces over time with increasing CPIs. Those who may miss a payment for some reason and want to settle the deferred charges immediately after it is identified could be substantially penalised, as the loss in concessions wouldn’t be offset by time. As it appears to be a decision of government, the best avenue to try and instigate change, such as keeping concessions say for any payment made within 3 months, the best avenue may be to speak to you local state member.
I expect this is some monopoly and you don’t have a choice to change to a different supplier who has more flexible rules?
So, can you clarify … are you the owner of the property? If so
… surely the amounts lost are small compared with the value of the property, and one option is: ignore the problem. Do nothing. Let them sort it out in the future. It may even be after you are dead (then it’s not even your problem). Life is too short to fritter away on bureaucracy. Life is for doing things like going away on extended trips, er, like the one that started this problem.
Given that your local member was not of any use, it sounds as if you will be stuck with the rules as they are.
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I came across an issue with paying my council rates, which cannot be paid via direct debit or otherwise automatically paid. I paid the bill on the council payment portal online, received an online confirmation that the payment had been made including a receipt number (which I did not write down as I had paid this bill with no problems many times).
Apparently, despite this confirmation, the payment did not proceed, as a week later I received a reminder notice with a 5% penalty applied on the day after the due date. On speaking to the council, they stated that it was up to me double check each payment had gone through, which because of the instant application of the penalty, means I have to pay well in advance to give myself time to double check if the payment had failed later. I will be writing down the receipt number in future.
Did the payment come out of your account? If so, then that is possibly enough proof of payment and when it was made. Getting a statement from your financial institution showing that payment should be enough to have the Council track down where the payment went in their system.
I don’t get a receipt number unless the payment was actioned and approved. My assumption would be that it would be the same process for your Council.
My electricity supplier sends me a ‘paid receipt’ for the direct debit every month. It states that it (the credit for payment) can be reversed up to 3 days hence that is apparently the time a bank can reject it. I could imagine a receipt number being issued when the system lodged the debit and a bank acknowledged it, but where the payment actually failed if the target bank system later declined it, perhaps because the final approval might occur during batch processing on the back end?
I will refrain from commenting on the programming that could lead to that situation as I am often considered outspoken on that aspect.
Thanks for sharing this @RCo and sorry to hear you’ve been burned by this unfair practice. To my reading, I’d call it outrageous. I have passed on the details to our campaigns team. There’s not much I can add to what others have highlighted, but if you need any immediate assistance, feel to give us a call or get in touch directly.
I was wondering if you have ideas on how to approach government departments to initiate change to existing legislation. It seems to me that this legislation at this point targets pensioners and is worthy of change.
Thanks for your reply.
Ron Coster Kalamunda wa
Is your local member government or not government? (I know WA is virtually a one party state so I would guess the former but …)
You could approach the relevant government department directly. I would just ring them up and try to find out whom you should really be talking to. Better though is to have your local member on side and making representations on your behalf.
Not exactly. It targets concessions and if only pensioners get concessions then only pensioners can be affected by the relevant rules.
Ways to enable a fairer outcome from your perspective include seeking a legislation change and seeking a different interpretation of the current legislation. The latter may be easier to achieve.
The legislation is worded to generally allow concession holders either a rebate of charges or a deferral of payment, but not both. Subsection 40(3A) allows the Minister to grant an extended period to pay if exceptional circumstances apply. This appears to be outside of the control of the individual service provider.
Perhaps it is just a more generous definition of “exceptional circumstances” that is required, rather than a change to the legislation.
Curiously, the legislation does not appear to specify which minister has the power to extend the payment period.
In general, the level of penalty is not in line with the crime. Particularly when you have received a penalty in excess of 1,900,000 % for not paying one cent on time. Also include in your submission that the penalty for a small oversight is a significant proportion of a pensioner’s monthly income.
It seems strange you got a confirmation but the transaction didn’t complete. Usually with online payments, confirmation is only given after the credit card transaction has been processed and the POS receives approval codes from the card issuer. In such case, the transaction would appear on your statement.
Are you 100% positive confirmation and receipt was issued? Is it possible another message was displayed and taken accidentally as a confirmation?
Did you pay rates on time? If it was late, it may have been later declined/reversed as it may have been identified later as an underpayment since late fees would have applied. 5% late fee isn’t uncommon.
It might be worth seeing if there are other payment methods which can be used…
Many councils allow payment by BPay and this can be done through online banking for most Australian banks. With BPay, it can be set up anytime to pay at future date. If payment is made before 6pm, the payment date is the day the BPay is executed by the bank. If after 6pm, the payment date is the next day. Most banks run BPay payment during night hours so payment date needs to be made the day for he payment due date. Check with your own bank when BPay is executed and what the payment date will be for the purposes of paying a bill
With the BPAY reference a part payment can be made every payday, for example if the bill is quarterly and roughly the same amount each time then divide the usual bill by the number of paydays and create a payment through BPAY that is for that amount. If the bill is higher then only the difference between what has been paid and the total will be shown as needing to be paid If the bill is less, then there will be a credit built already for the next one.
We do this for our water, our rates, for our electricity we use Origins Easipay (because of our solar credits we often take an amount out of the extra we have in the account).
We use the Qld Transport and Main Roads registration prepayment scheme and due to the amount of credit we accrued we haven’t had to put money in for registration for the last 2 years.
Having a commitment to prepaying for known expenses (even if only a rough quesstimate of the expense) reduces the lumps sum needed when the bills become due. Even rent can be somewhat topped up by small amounts that accumulate over time to provide a buffer for when times are leaner, an extra $5 or $10 a week soon adds up over 12 months to $260 to $520 of rent in advance.
In regards to NSW vehicle registration, a renewal notice can be generated up to 3 months before registration is due, and a BPAY reference is provided. With this reference prepayments (or set aside) can be made over the three months prior to renewal and when the registration is finally due only the remaining amount (if there is a remaining amount) needs to be paid.
Other States and Territories may have similar schemes that allow prepayment of registration costs, asking the relevant department in that State or Territory should get an answer.
The theory behind the rebate or deferral concept has some merit, but the practical application of the concept defies logic.
The system allows eligible people to defer some of their utility costs e.g. the service charges from their water bill, indefinitely. They only become payable if the person sells or rents their home out or passes away.
In cases where charges are deferred for many years, it could be reasonably argued that there is no real need to provide a discount. However it is not logical that the same rules are applied to amounts paid a day or two or seven late or when the on time payment is one cent short of the full balance.
However I don’t think this works in this particular scenario. The bill needs to be paid “in full” by the required date. Otherwise the concession is lost. For the scenario as outlined in the OP, there is probably no benefit at all in paying most but not all of the bill. If you are not going to pay it “in full”, you might as well pay none at all (for the specific scenario as outlined in the OP).
I guess only someone who is intimately familiar with that legislation and its passage into law could answer that.
However it is clear that “concession card holders” are not being targeted. What is targeted, in my opinion, is: a concessional charge is offered but then the recipient of the concession “takes the ■■■■” by trying to get even more of a concession, by not paying the full amount by the required date - although in this case it is clear that the OP did not intentionally fail to pay the full amount by the required date.
(So the OP is probably collateral damage caused by those customers who routinely knowingly fail to pay the full amount by the required date.)
It is also to note that if the concession arises by virtue of the age pension then there is a disconnect - because the age pension is governed and paid for by the Commonwealth government but utilities (such as gas, electricity, water) have traditionally been at the state (or even lower) level. So the utility really isn’t under any obligation to honour or recognise an age pensioner. So it is fairly discretionary on the part of the utility to come up with any concession scheme relevant to this topic.
Put those two together and you have a “deal” between the eligible customer and the utility, but if you (as the customer) break your side of the deal, the utility can walk away from its side of the deal.