A new report from Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) has found that Queensland households are bracing for bill stress, with one survey cited finding one in four concerned about paying their energy bills during the COVID-19 crisis.
QCOSS CEO Aimee McVeigh has warned of an energy affordability crunch as Queenslanders face the dual pressure of income support payments and bill deferrals being wound back and rising temperatures during summer.
“With these supports tapering off and Queensland about to enter its peak energy usage period during summer, we are deeply worried about energy affordability for households across the state,” Ms McVeigh says.
“In any ordinary year, the Christmas period is a difficult time financially for many households as they try to meet the costs of higher energy bills, back to school costs and family gatherings and holidays.
“This pressure will only compound as we’re spending more time at home, more people are unemployed, and we head into the ninth month of the greatest health and financial crisis Australia has faced in 100 years.”
The QCOSS report did find some positive news for energy consumers during the pandemic, with bill relief from the state government and income support from the federal government undoubtedly helping households meet living costs.
One retailer reported that 80 per cent of consumers who had a pre-existing hardship arrangement were meeting their payment arrangements – described as a significant improvement on pre-COVID-19 levels, and attributed to the temporary boost to the JobSeeker payment.
“Government and industry responses have helped households considerably, and their responses should be commended,” Ms McVeigh says.
The release comes just weeks before summer and Queensland’s peak energy usage period begins, and as key supports like mortgage deferrals, eviction moratoriums, and income supports taper off.
Initial research indicates household energy usage may have increased for many since COVID began.
QCOSS has several recommendations to improve energy affordability that will also create much-needed jobs throughout the state.
“Our emPOWER Homes proposal would install energy efficient devices, upgrades and solar onto low-income households and create much-needed stimulus in local economies across Queensland, while also lowering the cost of energy bills for those most in need,” says Ms McVeigh.
“Other measures like increasing the accessibility of concessions and emergency assistance will ease the burden on Queensland households.”
QCOSS will continue to monitor the situation throughout summer and urges the Queensland government’s new Energy Minister to do the same.
If you’re experiencing hardship, QCOSS urges consumers to contact their retailer as soon as possible.
“At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, former Energy Minister Anthony Lynham made it clear to retailers that households suffering hardship should not be disconnected – so communication, as early as possible, is key,” Ms McVeigh says.
“If talking to your energy retailer is too difficult or you need help with understanding your obligations, we urge to reach out to the community sector – contact a financial counsellor or your local neighbourhood centre to seek support.”