Financial and Consumer Rights Council (FCRC) and Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) today congratulated the Victorian government for its recently announced reforms to the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS).
“The Scheme provides assistance to Victorian families struggling to pay a gas, electricity or water bill, by providing access to a grant. Where some sudden financial stress, such as a car accident or health problem leaves Victorians unable to pay a utilities bill, a grant under the scheme can make all the difference”, said Dr Sandy Ross, FCRC Executive Officer.
There have been significant barriers to accessing the scheme grants for many years. Only half the people who asked to access it were returning the paper based form in time to get access and then could only access it once in a two year period, even though for many they are not claiming anywhere near the cap and their hardship is ongoing.
“People who need access to URGS need this process to be easy, not a bureaucratic obstacle course,” said Denise Boyd, Director Policy & Campaigns for CALC. “Consumer Action Law Centre, together with FCRC, has been urging the government to reform the Scheme so it can help the people who need it most. That’s why we’ve warmly welcomed this much needed reform.”
Following a review process including consultations with community and industry groups, the Government has instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to make significant changes to the URGS. Changes include:
- Making access to the grants faster and easier through phone requests and online processes as well as the paper form.
- Widening criteria for access to include specific provisions for people experiencing family violence.
- Allowing more than one application to be made within a two year period if the cap is not exceeded.
- Allowing rural and regional Victorians access to the grants for the cleaning of septic tank systems.
“Government is sometimes criticised for not addressing community needs; in this case the government consulted and listened and has enacted reforms that will make its own schemes work better for the people they are intended to help,” said Dr Ross.
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