Help for some struggling to pay water bills

People who use home dialysis and customers with a long-term outstanding debt or a recent hardship may be able to access new Water Corporation programs. File picture

THREE new programs will be available to Water Corporation customers whose health requires increased more use and also some facing hardship from July 1 this year.

The programs include medical assist for households who have a family member with kidney disease undertaking home dialysis requiring higher water use.

An allowance of up to 180,000 litres of water free of charge each year is available.

The start over program will assist customers in hardship with a long-term outstanding debt.

The Water Corporation will match a customer’s payments over a two-year period and then clear any outstanding debt, giving them a fresh start.

The third program, time assist, is for people who have a consistent payment history but a recent event (such as a self-employed builder who has had an accident and is unable to work) resulting in them being unable to pay.

Bills could be put on hold for up to three months.

The Water Corporation’s new programs are in addition to other financial hardship initiatives, focused on early intervention, announced by Water Minister Dave Kelly earlier this year.

Mr Kelly said the measures had contributed to a decrease in the number of people who had their water supply restricted, for non-payment of bills, down from 2467 in 2016-17 to 922 in 2017-18 (as at April 30).

Premier Mark McGowan said initiatives which assist financially vulnerable groups were strongly supported by the government.

“The medical assist program has been specifically designed to help those with kidney disease undertaking home dialysis – many of which are unable to work because of ill health,’’ he said.

“It clearly demonstrates how we are putting patients first.

“There are things we can do as a government to ease pressure on the most vulnerable people living in WA, however, with the support of organisations across WA, we can do more to help those in need.”

Mr Kelly said he wanted to make sure those doing it tough had access to a range of programs to help them get back on track.

“That is why since we came to government, I have asked the water corporations to work harder at assisting customers in financial difficulty,’’ he said.

“We know people who reach out for help early will end up in a better position than those who ignore paying their bills – so I am pleased we have added and strengthened programs to help in these circumstances.’’

Community Services Minister Simone McGurk said the government had allocated additional funding to the hardship utility grants scheme, and honoured its election commitment to reinstate financial counselling, but it was important for utility companies to continue to improve the programs they offered.

“It is the responsibility of utility companies to work with their customers to address outstanding bills, not against them,’’ she said. “The Water Corporation is leading the way on this.

“Our priority is to ensure that those who are most in need are supported.

“Restricting someone’s water or electricity should be a very last resort.”

Kidney Health Australia interim chief executive officer Lisa Murphy said patients who were not concession card holders could be out of pocket about $1500 a year due to water, power and other costs associated with home dialysis.

“On top of this, living with end stage renal failure can make maintaining employment challenging, and so the medical assist program will provide vital financial relief to the hundreds of home dialysis patients living in Western Australia,’’ she said.