‘Unmanageable’: Energy bill plea for struggling seniors

The Malinauskas Government has been asked to lift its energy bill concession by 25 per cent amid warnings that spiralling power prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable for some seniors on fixed and low incomes.

Apr 19, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023
Photos: Jacob King/PA Wire; Russell Freeman/AAP; Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Photos: Jacob King/PA Wire; Russell Freeman/AAP; Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

In a pre-budget submission, the Council on the Ageing SA (COTA SA) called for a 25 per cent increase to the energy concession for low-income households to “acknowledge the significant jump in retail energy costs”.

Currently, the energy concession provides eligible seniors, Centrelink recipients and low-income earners up to $241.63 a year to help with energy bills.

A 25 per cent increase would take that to $302.03 in 2023/24.

COTA SA has also called for any increase to be followed by a “similar rise” the following year.

The state budget will be handed down on June 15. Premier Peter Malinauskas has already flagged that cabinet is considering cost of living concession changes that will be “beyond what we did in last year’s state budget”.

COTA SA chief executive Miranda Starke said rising energy bills are “having an impact on older people’s ability to live a good life”.

“For older people who are not in the workforce anymore, they’re on fixed incomes and often low incomes, a power bill that increases by 50 per cent, which has been the case in recent years, becomes absolutely unmanageable when you’re trying to manage a very tight budget anyway,” she told InDaily.

“This is what we hear regularly when COTA is engaging with older people in various places around the state.”

The Australian Energy Regulator last month flagged that electricity bills will rise by more than 21 per cent for some South Australian households and businesses in 2023/24.

The increase will add more than $400 to annual energy costs for some families.

Services funded by the South Australian Government are witnessing firsthand the very real impact that the increasing cost of living is having on vulnerable individuals and families and how this is contributing to a progressive deepening of poverty across our state.

The average quarterly electricity bill in South Australia is already $322 ($1288 a year), the second-highest in Australia, according to research released by consumer choice group Canstar Blue in January.

An April consumer sentiment survey by comparison website Finder measured quarterly energy bills in South Australia at $354 ($1416 a year) – the highest of all the mainland states.

Starke said an increase to the energy bill concession is particularly important heading into winter when heating becomes “an absolute essential service”.

“Often in Australia we think about heat and heatwaves as the big risk for older people – in fact, it’s the cold,” she said.

“Australian homes are often not very well insulated or thermally regulated.

“We need to be able to use heating in our homes to keep us comfortable, to keep us healthy, to keep people well.

“Energy concessions don’t fix the whole problem – they certainly are not going to pay anyone’s energy bills in full.

“But a 25 per cent increase would make a big difference to an older person on a fixed income, on a low income, on a pension, to be able to afford to keep the heating on during winter.”

At the last state budget, the Malinauskas Government doubled the cost-of-living concession for low income earners and pensioners from $217.20 to $449 for eligible homeowners, and from $108.60 to $224.60 for tenants.

The one-off increase to the cost-of-living concession (separate to the energy concession) required the state government to allocate an additional $39.3m in funding.

This financial year, there has been a 5.09 per cent increase in households receiving the cost of living concession, according to a state government submission to a federal senate inquiry into cost of living.

The submission, made last month, raised concerns about the pressure rising households costs was putting on government service providers.

“Services funded by the South Australian Government are witnessing firsthand the very real impact that the increasing cost of living is having on vulnerable individuals and families and how this is contributing to a progressive deepening of poverty across our state,” the state government submitted.

“Delayed payment arrangements for the cost of utilities that were in place to help those impacted by COVID have started to expire and are having an impact on family budgets.

“As a result of increased presentations to services, our financial counselling services, and some No Interest Loans Scheme services, are at capacity with demand remaining high and steady.

“Some service providers have had to implement waiting lists to help manage this demand.”

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The submission also said the rise in South Australians receiving the cost of living concession can be attributed to a 13.8 per cent increase in take up from tenant households.

The state government added: “Utility costs are being reported as being higher, with many clients having little ability to control this due to rental accommodation not being energy efficient.”

COTA SA’s call for an increase in the energy concession comes amid a broader state government-commissioned review of South Australia’s whole concessions system.

The review, which commenced in February and is looking at 19 different state government concessions worth more than $245m, is due to release a “comprehensive public report” in summer 2023/24.

Last week, Premier Peter Malinauskas said “the big decisions” around South Australia’s cost of living concessions would be made in this year’s state budget.

He said that the budget committee of cabinet is currently “going through all the usual competing variables”.

“We want to increase health expenditure yet again, but we’re also very conscious of cost of living struggles, particularly around energy prices,” the Premier said last Wednesday.

“Those decisions loom large in this year’s state budget and we’ll make those announcements at the appropriate time.

“We’ve got a number of options that are on the table that we’re considering about cost of living measures we can make in this year’s state budget beyond what we did in last year’s state budget.

“We’re assessing those and what would have the most impact.”

Malinauskas said one option is to increase the cost of living concession again, although he warned this “only affects a group of people”.

“We want to see what we can do that affects the most people possible with a genuine focus on investing the energy and effort into those who are most vulnerable in our community,” he said.

COTA SA’s call also comes ahead of the federal budget due to be handed down on May 9.

The Albanese Government has foreshadowed a $3 billion “targeted and temporary” energy relief package for households, with the cost to be split equally between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

The state Opposition today called for the Malinauskas Government to join the Commonwealth’s Energy Bill Relief Fund to provide electricity bill rebates worth $250 to the average household, $500 for concession card holders and $650 for small businesses with less than 20 FTEs.

Opposition Treasury spokesperson Matt Cowdrey said the state government should contribute to the fund via an anticipated $198 million windfall in GST revenue.

“Returning the state’s GST windfall to South Australian families and businesses through a once-off electricity rebate is one way to provide real support for those struggling with the rising cost of living,” Cowdrey said in a statement.

“South Australians are paying the highest electricity bills in the country, and with the costs of other everyday essentials going through the roof, many now perceive putting the heater on this winter as a luxury.”


Treasurer Stephen Mullighan today said the state government would provide “very significant support” on energy bills, with the cost of living support in this year’s state budget to “benefit many more households” than previous concession packages.

He said the Opposition’s energy rebate call was “precisely what we have told the parliament, week in week out, we would be doing in partnership with the Commonwealth Government in this year’s coming budget”.

“We said we would be doing far more on cost-of-living, we said that we would be partnering with the Commonwealth on delivering very significant improvements to people’s energy bills by providing them with substantial relief – that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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