Report: Barriers to Accessing Utility Relief Grants

Increasing electricity prices have had a significant impact on the consumers that contact Consumer Action for assistance—consumers experiencing debt issues and those with some of the lowest incomes in Victoria.

Electricity and gas disconnections have increased from 19,605 in 2008/09 to 42,503 in 2012/13,[1] while complaints about energy disconnection/water restrictions for account arrears to the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria increased 12 per cent from 2012 to 2013.[2] Participation in hardship programs has increased by 29 per cent from 2012-13, to 2013-2014[3].  This data confirms a landscape where individuals are struggling to meet the cost of their essential services.

Electricity and gas prices are also at record high levels, with is having a significant impact for those that live on fixed incomes. While electricity and gas prices vary according to location and provider, energy prices in Victoria average between $2,200 and $2,600 for an electricity-only household, and between $2,800 and $3,400 for households with both gas and electricity.[4] The Australian Energy Regulator has reported that, in Victoria, for a low-income Victorian with concessions, energy bills are around 7.34 per cent of disposable income. This proportion increases to 8.36 per cent if concessions are not claimed.[5]

Thankfully the Victorian Government provides a robust range of concessions to help consumers stay connected to essential services and prevent the buildup of unmanageable debt. However, experiences drawn from our financial counselling service indicate that the current application process for some concessions, particularly the Utility Relief Grant, involves significant barriers for consumers. Missing out on government assistance which low-income earners are entitled to is of great concern, as low-income Victorians need as much support as possible to deal with financial stresses. The availability of these grants also benefits energy and water retailers, who are able to better manage consumer debts.

Barriers to Accessing Utility Relief Grants looks at the experiences of Victorian consumers and financial counsellors and considers how the Utility Relief Grant system may be improved to ensure access for vulnerable Victorians.


[1] ESC, Energy Retailers Comparative Performance Report, 2013, pg  30, at http://www.esc.vic.gov.au/getattachment/983c8101-90be-4173-b57e-73ec365f2648/Energy-Retailers-Comparative-Performance-Report-Cu.pdf

[2] EWOV, Annual report, 2013,  p. 24, at http://www.ewov.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/9640/1-EWOV-2103-Annual-Report.pdf

[3] from $18879 to $24356.

[4] St Vincent de Paul, Victorian Energy Prices, January 2014, available: http://www.vinnies.org.au/icms_docs/178265_Victorian_Energy_Prices_January_2014.pdf.

[5] Australian Energy Regulator, Annual Performance of the Retail Energy Market 2013-2014, November 2013, available at: http://www.aer.gov.au/sites/default/files/AER%20Retail%20Performance%20Report%202012-13%20-%20updated%2011.02.2014_0.pdf.

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