A new report released today by Consumer Action Law Centre has found that while Victoria’s energy retailers continue to improve their support for people in financial hardship, many Victorians continue to miss out on the help they are entitled to.
The report, Energy Assistance Report (3rd edition): Understanding the experience of Victorians dealing with energy hardship, unpacks the experience of people calling Consumer Action’s financial counsellors about energy debt from January to December 2022.
“Four years on from the launch of the payment difficulty framework in Victoria, we’re still seeing some really worrying gaps in the assistance energy retailers are providing to people who are struggling with their energy bills,” said Luke Lovell, Acting Director of Policy and Campaigns, Consumer Action.
In terms of the people impacted, marginalised communities were over-represented with people calling about energy debt more likely to identify as women, be a single parent, rent their home, live in public/community housing, speak a language other than English at home, and list Centrelink as their primary income source. They were also more likely to identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and to have been impacted by mental health challenges and/or family violence.
“It’s disappointing that our financial counsellors still hear from people who have been pressured to set up unaffordable payment plans or haven’t been informed about government grants and concessions which could help with affordability.”
Mr Lovell said that further action from industry, regulators, and government was needed to ensure people get the help they need.
“We are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and power bills are going up, so we want to see retailers better support customers who are struggling financially.
“We also call on the regulator to make sure that energy retailers are providing people with the support they are required to by law, through increased compliance and enforcement action, and that government is looking at how financial supports can be improved to help people pay their energy bills,” he said.
The report makes the following recommendations::
- Focus areas for enforcement and compliance action by the Essential Services Commission to ensure energy businesses are meeting their obligations to customers
- Improvements to Victoria’s Payment Difficulty Framework to better protect energy customers experiencing financial hardship
- Expanded income support and concessions reform to improve energy affordability for low-income households.
- Improved data and reporting to better understand the extent of energy hardship in Victoria and how supports are working.
Read the full report here.
Media Contact: Mark Pearce Tel :0413 299 567 E:Mark@consumeraction.org.au