Budget must provide energy hardship support, as winter approaches

30 April 2021

Ahead of the May budget, ACOSS is calling on the Federal Government to provide financial support to people on low incomes in energy hardship made worse by COVID-19.
The number of customers in energy debt increased 32% to over 170,000 in 12 months to December 2020, with the average debt rising by 27% to $1,008. Debt is likely to get worse over the coming months. Income support payments have been cut, rents have gone up, eviction moratoriums have ended, at the same time as energy debt deferral safeguards begin to end.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said “People living on $44 a day have little hope of repaying a $1,000 energy debt, and will struggle to afford their next energy bill.

“To date most people have had some safety net with COVID-19 financial supports and the ability to defer energy debt, but this is all coming to an end and the consequences for some people as we go into winter are dire.

“We know people on low-incomes are already depriving themselves of energy by not heating their homes and going without food or medicines to be able to afford their energy bills, which is seriously affecting their health and wellbeing.

“We need to nip this in the bud before debt spirals out of control and becomes unmanageable.

“The Government should use the Budget as an opportunity to create a fairer future – not leave people behind in crisis, including being stuck in energy debt and freezing through winter.

“We are calling on the Federal Government to provide financial support of up to $1,000 per customer experiencing payment difficulties via an emergency payment.

“As this measure will help relieve debt for energy retailers, we expect retailers to also step up and provide additional relief to those customers with debt greater than $1,000, and help customers reduce their bills going forward.”

AER Data shows:
• The number of residential gas and electricity customers in debt at the end of December 2020 has increased 32% in 12 months. From 147,098 December 2019 to 171,329 December 2020.
• Average residential gas and electricity debt at the end of December 2020 was $1,008, which steadily increased from $796 for the same period the previous year.