Photography: Dave Hunt/AAP
Australia’s state-based hodgepodge energy concession scheme needs to be overhauled and streamlined to make it fair, the Australian Council of Social Services has said, as the country’s low-income residents seek to cut their grocery bills and waive essential prescriptions in order to pay for electricity and gas.
In a report released Wednesday, Acoss argued that most concession schemes, which vary widely by state and territory and are mostly provided as a flat rate rebate, do not were “not sufficient to meet needs” and led to aid inequalities, with larger households receiving less aid while their energy costs and needs were higher.
Mark Goodrick, who lives with his partner, Jennifer, and their daughter in Nambour on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, told Guardian Australia that due to rising prices, his family’s energy costs had barely changed over the past of the past two years, despite having moved from a draught-free private rental to an energy-efficient benchmark public accommodation.
Their former home was “a glorified tent – you’re freezing to death or roasting to death,” Goodrick said.
Goodrick and her family live off payments from job seekers and caregivers who enable them to care for their autistic daughter. They receive the Queensland Electricity Rebate, a flat rate worth less than $7 per week.
Goodrick told Guardian Australia the family had saved as much as they could to keep costs as low as possible.
“You always look at the food costs and make sure you’re not buying anything expensive, and you’re buying them at a close date so they’re as cheap as possible,” Goodrick said, “And you don’t don’t replace the things you need. I think we went about five years without buying clothes.
Meanwhile, Michelle Jackson, 56, who lives with her 22-year-old son outside Hobart, Tasmania, said her public housing gas bills were running at more than $500 a quarter until until the department replaces its gas heating with an electric split. cycling system. Only now have they slowly begun to decline, but they remain a burden.
“I try to cook during off hours,” Jackson said. “I do laundry late at night – I’m out at midnight quite often hanging out. I don’t use my oven much because it takes a long time to heat up and is very expensive.
Jackson, who lives with multiple physical conditions that prevent her from working, said she regularly had to choose between which of her prescriptions she filled.
“Some prescriptions you really need, but it’s a mix between what you get and what you hold back,” she said. “I just learned to live with the pain because I can’t afford to buy too many pills.”
Acoss called on state energy ministers to commit to reforming energy concessions, recommending means-tested discounts calculated on a percentage of household bills because they were “more equitable and responsive to change”.
The calls follow a November report by the Consumer Policy Research Center estimating that more than 35% of Australians eligible for concessions on their energy bills may not receive them due to the complexity of various state programs. and bureaucratic “mud” when registering. process.
Related: Hundreds of thousands could miss energy bill rebates of up to $372
The federal government predicted in the October budget that electricity prices would increase by 56% over the next two years and gasoline prices by 40%.
Concerns about energy affordability predate the pandemic, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reporting in 2018 that even then high prices for households and businesses were “unacceptable and unsustainable.
Acoss chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the reshuffle was necessary to address “gaps and inequalities that prevent those who need financial help most from receiving it”.
“At a time when people are already reducing their energy consumption in every way possible and still finding themselves in debt and unable to meet basic needs like food, rent and medicine, it is essential that Ministers of heed the report’s call for a new approach that better meets household needs,” said Goldie.
The report adds to ongoing calls by Acoss and other advocacy groups for the federal government to increase the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance, Austudy and other government social benefits to at least $70. per day.