The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed the announcement yesterday by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) that it will extend the additional protections to support households and small businesses struggling with energy bills until 30 June 2021.
Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO said: “We commend the AER for acting swiftly and proactively at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect energy consumers.
“The AER’s initial Statement of Expectations of energy businesses during COVID-19 took effect from 1 April 2020. One year on, we are seeing ongoing social, economic and health impacts in our community caused and exacerbated by the pandemic and recent policy decisions.
“Just last week The Energy Charter released its second wave of research on the impacts of COVID-19 on energy consumers. It found that the impacts of COVID-19 are being felt more significantly by vulnerable groups, with people on JobSeeker falling further into hardship.
“Last week also saw the Morrison Government’s cruel decision to increase the rate of JobSeeker by a meagre $3.57 to $44 per day from 1 April 2021 pass into law. This coincides with the end of both the Coronavirus Supplement of $150 per fortnight and the JobKeeper scheme.
“As a result of these decisions, tens of thousands of Canberrans will be pushed further into poverty. Meanwhile, the number of Canberrans receiving income support while looking for work – which more than doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic – has not recovered, remaining at almost double the pre-COVID rate today.
“The current version of the Statement of Expectations was due to expire on 31 March 2021. As noted by AER Chair Clare Savage, the winding back of income support measures is a key reason for extending additional supports to households and small businesses struggling with energy bills from 1 April to 30 June 2021.
“These additional supports include offering all residential and small business customers who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement. The AER expects that any customer who puts their hand up for help should receive the benefit of retailer support and should not be disconnected.
“We encourage anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bill to contact their retailer or to reach out to a financial counselling service or other trusted representative to act on their behalf.”
Dr Campbell concluded: “We welcome the AER’s decision to extend additional protections to energy consumers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and our community and economy gradually recover. Locally, we urge the ACT Government to continue its COVID-19 supports for ACT energy consumers experiencing payment difficulty through the Utilities Hardship Fund and the extension of the Utilities Concession to asylum seekers.
“The biggest shame in all of this is that the need for such stop-gap measures could be largely avoided by raising the rate of working age social security payments above the poverty line so that people can afford to pay their energy bills as well as keeping a roof over their heads and putting food on the table.”
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.