Our Two Cents: the Energy System does not exist in a vacuum – let’s be realistic.

The Energy System does not exist in a vacuum – let’s be realistic.

For people experiencing severe financial difficulty, retaining a basic supply of energy can be an overwhelming challenge. In fact, many of us would struggle with the practical realities of re-connecting supply if we were disconnected. For people in this situation, it is not just an energy debt hanging over their heads, but a multitude of other issues, many of which are exacerbated by lack of access to this basic necessity.

Caseworkers at Consumer Action Law Centre hear the whole story when Victorians call us for assistance. We regularly hear from people in payment difficulty taking out predatory payday loans to avoid the threat of imminent disconnection. In some cases, people have sought assistance from their retailer which is not readily forthcoming. When retailers fail to appropriately assist, “quick cash” from a payday lender can seem alluring but ultimately creates a debt spiral. Some people are left in an even worse position than where they started.

There can be other simple barriers to reconnection. Phones can’t be charged at a disconnected property and phone credit is just one more thing that can’t be paid for. Without access to a phone, it can be difficult to get assistance from a retailer or support service.

Recently, several callers to our services have described these sorts of scenarios. We’ve summarised their predicament in the diagram below. As the arrows show, despite their best efforts in a horrible situation, the door can slam in their face over and over again.

These examples are just a small sample of what is happening ‘on the ground.’ As advocates, we are grateful to get these insights from people calling our caseworkers. Wherever possible we use them to ground an often abstract policy debate  in the reality of everyday life.

Recently two important reports have offered further insight into what’s happening in the real world – namely the reports by VCOSS and QCOSS respectively.  We encourage readers to take a look at the article that Emma O’Neill has written to introduce the VCOSS report.

Energy plays an essential role in all our lives, but people in financial difficulty have a range of competing priorities at any one time. It might sound easy to take the required steps to get your energy account re-connected, but this can be a significant challenge for many. Those of us who work in energy policy must explore our assumptions on a regular basis, and take the time to really think about the lives of those living in financial difficulty. Policy initiatives might seem fair on paper, but they can result in people being kicked while they’re already down.

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