Power to stop high rate of disconnections with government and retailers
A survey of community service workers has highlighted the many factors contributing to the high rate of electricity disconnections for non payment in Queensland.
A report on the survey released by the Queensland Council of Social Service today recommends actions for government and electricity retailers to better support customers who are struggling to cope with rising prices and who are vulnerable to being disconnected.
The number of disconnections in Queensland increased 60 per cent in the four years to 2011 – with 23,740 Queenslanders having their power disconnected due to non-payment of bills during 2011-12.
Poor consumer knowledge of the help available was one of the factors highlighted, with 81 per cent of the community service workers surveyed reporting that their clients were unaware of assistance available through retailers.
“Many also reported that their clients lacked the skills to self-advocate or negotiate with retailers and almost two-thirds (63.3 per cent) said mobile call costs prevented clients from contacting retailers,” says QCOSS CEO Mark Henley.
Community workers said poor performance by retailers affected their clients. Two common problems encountered were retailers allowing debts to build up over multiple billing periods (56.7 per cent of respondents listed this as an issue) and failing to provide adequate assistance to customers in hardship (45 per cent).
“Payment plans were offered without taking into account capacity to pay; there were difficulties obtaining application forms for the Queensland Government Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS), and in gaining access to retail hardship programs.
Problems with the design of the HEEAS program, for example the complexity of the application forms and unnecessarily restrictive eligibility criteria, prevented many customers in severe hardship from receiving assistance.
The survey found that almost half the clients, most of whom live in private rental properties, had high bills due to energy inefficient housing or appliances.
“We welcome the government’s commitment to consumer engagement and hope the recommendations based on the findings of this survey help in what they are trying to achieve,” says Mark.
The recommendations include:
- undertaking a full and public review of the equity, efficiency and adequacy of energy concessions
- extending rebates to all Health Care Card holders
- amending HEEAS guidelines and improving access to the scheme
- investigating options for improving energy efficiency for tenants.
Other recommendations cover measures to improve consumer protection through adoption of the National Energy Customer Framework, a government-funded education campaign on consumer protections, and government and retailer support for the work of the community sector in helping customers with payment difficulties.
For more than 50 years QCOSS has worked throughout Queensland to eliminate poverty and inequality. QCOSS is an independent non-government organisation representing close to 600 organisations and individuals throughout Queensland.