Government action needed as more people struggle to pay energy bills: ACOSS

The federal government must step in to ease cost of living pressure after the number of people struggling to pay their energy bills has soared, ACOSS said today.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) today revealed the number of residential electricity customers participating in hardship programs in the first three months of this year soared by 19 per cent to 89,201 since the same quarter last year.

Average hardship debt has increased by $137, or eight per cent, to $1,871, since the same quarter last year.

The proportion of people repaying energy debt also increased from 2.7 to 2.8 per cent since the same quarter last year, now totalling 188,969 customers with an average debt of $999.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said: “The cost of living crisis is putting enormous pressure on people on low incomes and the situation is set to worsen with energy bills rising by up to 25 per cent from July 1, in some parts of the country.

“Our surveys show that 65 per cent of people on income support are cutting back on heating and 60 per cent are going without essentials like food and medication to afford their bills.

“We welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to extending gas price caps to 2025 – but there is much more work to be done to address soaring energy costs and raise the rate of income support.

“The Government should step in to lower retail profits and also directly assist customers in hardship before their debt spirals out of control and becomes more unmanageable.”

ACOSS is urging:

  1. The Federal Government to step in to lower retail profits by updating its guidelines on the Default Market Offer
  2. The Federal Government to strengthen the role of the ACCC to tackle inflated market pricing
  3. The Federal Government to provide relief payments of up to $2,000 per person to those experiencing unmanageable energy debt
  4. The Federal Government to lift income supports, including Youth Allowance and JobSeeker. Following the May federal budget, JobSeeker will still only be $53.85 per day when it is increased in September, with Youth Allowance just $42.85 per day
  5. Federal and state governments to accelerate investment in retrofitting low income homes for improved efficiency, electrification and solar (where possible), so everyone can benefit from the renewable energy transition

The Federal Government to work with the states and territories to implement better regulation of the private rental market to protect against exorbitant rent increases

/Public Release. View in full here.