With 2 in 3 Australians already experiencing some level of financial stress, the knock-on effects of COVID-19 will expose many more Victorians to financial vulnerability
Restrictions to flatten the curve are critical but will only increase the strain on Victorians struggling to pay their utility bills, warn Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) energy experts, Karl Barratt and Cameron Crome.
As Australians spend more time at home during isolation, many are likely to experience significant energy bill increases. This comes at a time when many are also experiencing precarious employment and other growing household costs.
“Ensuring that consumers have access to simple, practical information on how to manage their energy costs is more critical now than ever before, as uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic lingers and we head into the colder months,” said Karl Barratt, Manager of the Energy Simplified program at CPRC, a partnership with the Victorian Government.
“We need to reduce the confusion and misinformation out there when it comes to our energy use and bills. It’s about ensuring that people are comfortable in their home and feel empowered to take action”
“The Victorian Government implemented a range of reforms in 2019 to help people take control of their energy bills. To ensure Victorians don’t fall through the widening gap, we need to make sure they are up to speed with the support available to them.”
“Through Energy Simplified we’ve designed a simple how to guide that tackles energy costs in four key ways: getting the best deal, accessing concessions, securing payment difficulty support from retailers, and how to save energy and stay comfortable in the home.”
A recent report by CPRC, commissioned by the Australian Energy Regulator, highlights the uncertainty many Australians already face in their everyday lives. Vulnerabilities that will only be compounded during this crisis.1
2 in 3 Australians experience some level of financial stress
30% of Australians have savings of less than one month’s income or none at all
44% of Australians have low literacy
1 in 5 Australians speak a language other than English at home
1 in 5 National Debt Helpline callers with energy issues in 2019 were experiencing mental health problems ¹
“To build consumer resilience during this crisis, community workers must be equipped with simple, accessible and trusted energy information. Empowering these essential frontline workers with the right training will ensure they can give their clients the best possible support,” said Cameron Crome, Energy Trainer at CPRC.
“I’ve delivered Energy Simplified training to over 600 emergency relief workers across Victoria. Emergency relief workers are often on the frontline, supporting people struggling with range of challenges from mental health issues, to family breakdown or financial difficulties”
“People aren’t silly, the energy market is confusing. By breaking the information into easily digestible morsels, people are getting it and in turn, able to help themselves and their clients. Through Energy Simplified we’ve combined the right information, delivered through the right channel to bring some clarity and understanding of the retail energy market to so many people.”
The Energy Simplified program has been running since 2019, a partnership between CPRC, the Victorian Government, CISVic and Ellis Jones. Over just six months, Karl and Cameron trained 35 Energy Mentors and over 630 frontline emergency relief workers to provide effective energy support in 45 locations across Victoria.
The training is supported by a range of energy information materials, co-designed with community workers and consumers themselves, including fact sheets, explainer videos and posters, both as printed material and housed on the Energy Info Hub website (www.energyinfohub.org.au).
In 2020, Karl and Cameron are broadening this work to reach even more consumers, alongside the Victorian Government.
“We want to strengthen our partnerships to ensure vital information and resources continue to make their way to frontline workers and consumers in an increasingly online environment. We must ensure energy consumers are supported during this time of crisis – that includes new COVID-19 response measures and giving people the information and tools they need to tackle these rising household bills,” said Karl.
Karl and Cam’s tips for managing your energy bills
Energy concessions will save you money. If you have a concession card, phone your energy company today to make sure you are getting concessions on your energy bills.
If you have an energy debt you may be eligible for a Utility Relief Grant to help pay for it. Just phone your energy company and if you are eligible, they will help you apply today.
It’s now a requirement that energy companies tell you whether you’re on their best energy deal. Check the box on the front of your bill to see if you are currently receiving your energy company’s Best Offer. If you are not, phone them today and ask to be put on their Best Offer
Think you may have trouble paying your next energy bill? Phone your energy company and they will set up a payment plan for you that you can afford. You have a right to assistance so make sure your retailer provides this. If they don’t, contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria on 1800 500 509.
Shrink the area you heat to stay comfortable and healthy in your home whilst saving money this winter.
¹Exploring regulatory approaches to consumer vulnerability: A CPRC report for the AER
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