Increase the URGS cap and improve access

The Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS) has been in place in Victoria for over 20 years and plays a valuable role, supporting vulnerable households at risk of accumulating energy debts. Over that period, energy and water prices have increased faster than CPI, while the value of URGS has remained unchanged – seriously limiting its usefulness. The price cap of the URGS (based on the balance owing at the time of the application) has been capped at six months of usage, up to a maximum of $500 –since 2010. We recommend immediately raising the URGs cap to $750 to reflect price movements since 2010, and for the cap to be reviewed annually to ensure it keeps pace with price rises. The URGS application process is paper based and clumsy, despite the Victorian Government moving services online as part of its digital first strategy. Energy retailers receive $37.50 for every form they send to a customer. In the 2016-17 financial year energy retailers sent 66,609 application forms to potential URGS recipients. Over half of these (33,665) were not returned by customers to DHHS. This means energy retailers received a ($1.26 million) with no social benefit. This could have provided at least 2,524 families with energy debt relief, yet was instead given to private business. By streamlining the application process, we can reduce inefficiencies and make URGs work for Victorians again. This long overdue reform would be good for vulnerable Victorians, good for government, and good for retailers.

Victoria Votes 2018

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