Measures taken won’t stop bills from jumping
Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of peak welfare lobby group the Australian Council of Social Service, said it was “incumbent on companies who are providing essential services to put people first [and] to provide relief and a level of comfort during this uncertain and unprecedented period”.
The industry has already put in place a range of measures to assist customers in hardship.
Energy retailers AGL, Origin and Energy Australia have committed to suspending disconnections and debt recovery.
Energy networks across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have also announced they will defer network charges for some small business and residential customers enduring hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Energy Regulator and governments have taken a number of steps to soften the bill shock, such as a commitment by the NSW Government to boost an Energy Accounts Payment Assistance Scheme.
And the Australian Parliament has legislated the biggest emergency support package in the nation’s history to support employment and boost assistance to the jobless.
But the community and welfare groups say more needs to be done.
“These are welcome and necessary steps,” Mr Memery said.
“But temporarily suspending disconnections and debt collection won’t stop winter energy bills for many households jumping by $200 a month.”
According to welfare groups, energy retailers have had to close call centres in Australia and overseas because of coronavirus-related health and safety risks.
They want the Government to consider supporting energy businesses to increase their customer support — a measure they maintain will create local jobs at a time of rising unemployment — in return for commitments from energy retailers to give further assistance to customers.