Urgent action needed to help people afford energy bills ahead of horror summer

ACOSS is urging the federal government to deliver a cost of living package to help people on low incomes to afford their energy bills as Australia heads into a forecast horror summer. 

It comes as the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) latest State of the energy market report shows energy affordability is a major issues for people on low incomes who bear a disproportionate cost burden.

This reflects findings from an ACOSS survey being released today showing the majority of people on income support struggle to cover their energy bills and are running out of options. Of the 427 people surveyed:

  • 74% are cutting back on cooling and heating
  • 62% are cutting back further on use of lights
  • 55% are taking fewer hot showers 
  • 51% are changing how they cook meals (i.e. not using the oven)
  • 49% are going to bed early to keep warm or cut down their use of lights 
  • 33% have stopped having people over

“As we head into a summer of extreme heat, the federal government needs to deliver a substantial package to urgently address energy affordability for people on low incomes,” ACOSS Program Director of Climate and Energy, Kellie Caught, said. 

“There was some one off help delivered in the last Federal Budget but this will not be sufficient to help people on the lowest incomes, who are facing dramatic increases in housing costs as well as food and energy. 

The package of help needs to include: 

  1. increasing investment to retrofit low-income housing
  2. Mandatory energy performing standards for rental properties
  3. Reforming energy concessions
  4. Proving energy debt relief
  5. Strengthing retail protections
  6. Substantially increase income support payments.

ACOSS’ survey found 97% of people were reducing their energy use to keep up with the rising costs. A third said they had already cut back, as much as possible, how much energy they used  and were at a loss for what else to do.

“Energy is an essential service, one which has serious implications for people’s health and wellbeing,” Ms Caught said. 

“The rising cost of energy coupled with the poor energy performance of rental properties only further compounds financial and social disadvantage. 

“People who experience vulnerability are facing energy debts, ill-health, and cutting back on other essentials just to stay afloat.

“They are taking drastic measures like not heating their homes in the middle of winter, turning fridges off overnight, limiting showers, and going without food or medicine to afford their bills.”

Almost half of the people surveyed said they got sick because they struggled to keep warm in their homes, and were worried about how they would keep their home cool over summer. 

The AER found that electricity and gas bills had increased faster than wages since 2005 and the number of people in energy debt was on the rise. The report argued people on low income were more vulnerable to high energy prices and less able to access measures to reduce energy bills like energy efficiency, rooftop solar or better energy deals. 

Read ACOSS’ Energy and Cost of Living Snapshot for further details and recommendations on addressing the rising costs of energy: https://www.acoss.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/ACOSS-Energy-Cost-of-Living-Snapshot-October-2023.pdf