ACT Government must maintain adequate utilities assistance for low-income households as costs rise

Media Release

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has called on the ACT Government to permanently increase the Utilities Concession in 2022-23 as Canberrans face a higher combined utilities bill alongside further increases in the cost of housing, food and fuel.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “In recent weeks we have heard much made of a miniscule decrease in ACT electricity prices from 1 July. However, looking at the bigger picture, many Canberrans will find themselves worse off in terms of their combined electricity, gas, and water bills over the next 12 months.

“ActewAGL’s retail electricity standing offer tariffs will decrease on average by just 1.25%, an average saving per household of $23 in 2022-23. But this comes after an increase of 11.95% or $195 last year.

“In 2021-22, the ACT Government permanently increased the annual Utilities Concession – which covers electricity, gas, and water and sewerage services – to $750. ACTCOSS welcomed the ACT Government’s rapid response to last year’s significant electricity price increase when it provided a one-off $50 increase, taking the Utilities Concession to $800. A further one-off rebate of $200 between October and December 2021 brought the total concession to $1,000.

“It is clear now that low-income households will be no better off than they were last year in terms of their combined electricity, gas, and water bills.”

Over 70% of households and businesses in the ACT use gas for their heating, cooking and/or hot water. In the coming year, ActewAGL’s residential gas customers will see their bills increase by 5.5%, approximately $73 per year for a typical household.

Origin Energy, the ACT’s second largest energy retailer, has advised its customers that both their electricity and gas prices will go up from 1 July. Origin has advised ACTCOSS their electricity standing offer will be increasing by 18% for residential customers, and their residential standing offer for gas by 8%.

The Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) which sets ActewAGL’s regulated retail electricity prices also regulates what Icon Water charges for water and sewerage services. Last week the ICRC announced that an average residential customer will see a saving in their annual water and sewerage services bill of $26 – a reduction of 2.2%. However an 11% increase in the fixed water supply charge may see higher bills for households with low and efficient water usage.

Dr Campbell continued: “The overall picture for 2022-23 is similar to 2021-22 when the Utilities Concession was temporarily increased. In fact, the average household with electricity, gas, and water accounts with ActewAGL and Icon Water will be $24 worse off over the next 12 months. And this follows the largest increase in the cost of living in over 20 years.

“Overall, the average ACT household will have higher combined utilities bills in 2022-23 than they did in 2021-22. At the same time they will be faced with further increases in the overall cost of living, with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia expecting inflation to peak at around 7% in the December quarter.”

Dr Campbell concluded: “In the absence of any action by the new Federal Labor Government to raise the rate of working-age social security payments above the poverty line, the need for adequate and targeted assistance from the ACT Government is even more essential. Clearly there is no case for the annual Utilities Concession to be dropped back down from $800 to $750 from 1 July 2022.

“With the new financial year now just one week away, we call on the ACT Government to provide a clear commitment to a permanent and proportionate increase in the Utilities Concession to help ensure all Canberrans can afford to heat their homes this winter.”

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