The NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) has doubled down on its call for energy price relief for struggling households as the Federal and State Governments progress an energy relief package.
The peak social services body has renewed its call for a permanent increase to the cap for the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers to $1,600 per year.
The body has also called for an overhaul to the application process for EAPA vouchers, which its members have called an invasive and onerous exercise for struggling households.
NCOSS CEO, Joanna Quilty, said that while energy companies and governments are locking horns on the right approach to tackle energy prices, too many NSW families are drowning in bills and taking drastic steps to make ends meet.
“The reality is, more and more people in NSW wake up each morning and wonder how they will afford to feed their families, pay the bills, and frankly, just get by,” Ms Quilty said.
“What we need right now is immediate energy price relief for those really struggling.
“That’s why we are repeating our call for a permanent increase to the cap on EAPA vouchers to $1,600 per year.
“It’s why we are also calling on the NSW Government to overhaul the application process which our members – community organisations at the frontline - tell us is invasive and overly complex.
“Being unable to pay your electricity bill is not enough. Applicants have to demonstrate an exceptional event like a family death and be prepared to have their financial circumstances interrogated before being granted the voucher.
“It can be a stressful, time-consuming and humiliating exercise.”
NCOSS’ 2022 Cost of Living Survey found there was extremely low awareness and uptake of the EAPA scheme, with 11 per cent of respondents aware of, and only 1.7 per cent accessing it.
“Our Cost of Living Survey found that awareness of Dine and Discover vouchers was at 78 per cent, whereas EAPA vouchers was at 11 per cent,” Ms Quilty said.
“Even though EAPA vouchers are supposed to be there to help with emergency situations, it can take up to six weeks to process the application to obtain one $50 voucher which seems to defeat the purpose – these barriers need to be removed immediately.
“We are also calling for a comprehensive awareness scheme to boost recognition and understanding of the program, targeting lower socio-economic areas, First Nations communities and culturally diverse households.
“As summer warms up and parts of our State experience extreme temperatures, people on low incomes will need to ration their use of air conditioners and other appliances.
“Families are already feeling the financial strain of the festive season – and the next massive power bill could push some over the edge.”
NCOSS has also called for other cost of living relief measures in its 2023 Policy Platform, including improved access to public dental care and making renting more secure and affordable.
To read a copy of the NCOSS 2023 Policy Platform, visit www.ncoss.org.au
Media contact: Nick Trainor | 0407 078 138