Annual Report 2017-2018 OmbudsmanNT
Tabled paper 934
Tabled Papers for 13th Assembly 2016 - 2020; Tabled Papers; ParliamentNT
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10 ESSENTIAL SERVICES AND FINANCIAL HARDSHIP Difficulties with historical debt are just as likely to arise in individual cases. A substantial proportion of Territorians face difficulty from time to time in paying the many competing bills they receive from service providers on a regular basis. A substantial proportion of complaints and enquiries we receive about essential service providers like PWC and Jacana Energy (Jacana) arise from financial hardship. Both PWC and Jacana have financial hardship policies and programs to assist people who are facing difficulty paying their bills. However, we continue to receive complaints and concerns about implementation of those policies. One issue that causes significant concern is when individuals have incurred debt to such an extent that they have little or no prospect of paying off that debt and maintaining payments for their ongoing essential services. These situations are often complicated because there is unlikely to be just one debt but a range of debts owed to various providers. The debt, or part of it, may have arisen for any number of reasons entering into an arrangement to help a son or daughter starting out in life, a need to move due to domestic violence, a departure from a group living situation, a messy break up in domestic arrangements or simply an inability to pay a debt at that time. Where a historical debt has built up, a person may have no real prospect, even with careful financial management, of paying off that debt and others that may have accrued while being able to meet ongoing commitments. Yet essential services are just that. They are basics of life. In these circumstances, it is incumbent on essential service providers to regularly review and update financial hardship policies to ensure they represent best practice. This is an area where it is also important that NT Government be engaged to ensure that it is comfortable with the level of support given to people to ensure ongoing access to essential services. I will be pursuing this issue with the NT Government and essential service providers during the course of 2018/19. CRIMES VICTIMS SERVICES UNIT I have previously reported on a large number of complaints received about the Crimes Victims Services Unit (CVSU) - a unit within the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice (AGD) that, amongst other things, processes applications for financial assistance under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. The primary issue of complaint has been delay in processing applications, a significant number of which stretch back over a number of years. The main reasons given for delay have included: delays in obtaining necessary information from NT Police relevant to the disposition of applications; delays in obtaining information from health providers; delays in securing appointments with specialist health providers to assess victims, exacerbated when an appointment is made but the claimant does not attend; the advent of fresh applications which complicate consideration of earlier applications by the same person; the build-up over time of a large backlog of applications which itself takes time to manage. My Office has been working with CVSU and AGD for some time in an effort to facilitate process improvements to streamline procedures and attack the backlog.