People on low incomes across Australia are going without lighting, hot water and basic heating because of the failure of schemes designed to assist them, a new report from the Australian Council of Social Service reveals.
Preventing shocks and addressing energy poverty, launched today by ACOSS, details the important role that adequate energy concessions play in helping people avoid disconnections, and the failure of current arrangements on energy concessions to protect people on low incomes from disconnection and hardship.
Among those worst hit are single parents and couples with children, including those on the Newstart allowance of just $36 per day.
A quarter of people relying on Newstart are unable to pay their electricity bill on time, according to the latest data, which also reveals people on Newstart are eight times less likely to be able to afford heating than other members of the community.
Concessions in South Australia and Queensland are singled out as being in the most urgent need of reform.
“Lagging states need to lift their game to ensure that everyone can meet their basic energy needs,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
“The 12.8 per cent of people (or 2.2 million) in our community experiencing poverty continue to struggle energy stress. The impacts of this include going without water, heating and lighting, disconnections and being forced to make other trade-offs to make ends meet.”
“Many energy concession schemes are poorly targeted and actually fail the people they’re designed to help, leaving them in the grips of energy poverty,” Dr Goldie said.
The ACOSS report recommends lagging states improve their concessions to ensure those on lowest incomes receive adequate assistance. It sets a longer term goal of moving to a nationally consistent concessions framework that protects low income households from energy poverty, preventing them from being forced to make the sorts of biting sacrifices detailed in the report.
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Key states where energy concessions are failing people in need
• The value of concessions in South Australia stands out as particularly low in relation to other states and territories, despite relatively high energy prices and disconnection rates.
• In South Australia, a $50 energy concession boost promised by the South Australian Government will make a big difference to households feeling the pinch. But even if the promise is delivered, the state will still have the lowest concessions in the country.
• New research from the University of Adelaide shows that South Australia has a higher rate of death from hypothermia than Sweden, suggested to be partly attributable to poor heating and insulation. (Link: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news68322.html
• Queensland is the only state in the National Energy Market that does not give concessions to all Commonwealth health care cardholders.
• This comes as the Queensland Government prepares to launch its 30 Year Energy Strategy later in the year.
New South Wales
• 24,888 households were disconnected in 2012/13 alone which is evidence the current concessions regime is failing.
• The introduction of a Family Energy Rebate reflects genuine efforts to assist families, but is poorly targeted.
• A proportional rebate that reflects actual energy bills would better assist families on low incomes, and give large families with higher base energy needs a higher rebate.
• This proportional rebate could be funded by combining funding for the Family Energy Rebate and Low-Income Household Rebate.
• Low-income regional households are paying more, but getting the same rebate, even when they use the same amount of electricity.