Energy meeting should have been about better prices not better offers

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, was underwhelmed by the outcome of today’s meeting between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the CEOs of seven of Australia’s largest energy retailers, together with peak body the Australian Energy Council.

“It’s about better prices, not better offers. Just notifying customers that there will be a change to their discount power plans is not enough,” said Mr de Groot.

“We were hoping for more to come out of today’s meeting. Energy Minister Josh Freydenberg promised some tough talking, to do more to lower people’s power bills, but we haven’t seen this happening yet.

“The approach by the energy industry misses the mark, particularly for low income households, and needs drastic reform, but our Commonwealth Government remains inactive. It is obvious Mr Freydenberg’s sword of Damocles hasn’t been sharpened in recent times.

“The Government’s lack of planning is making it more difficult for low and middle income earners to live safely and with dignity. Both the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister have missed the opportunity to guarantee security of electricity and gas for these households. In the age of choice, the most vulnerable in our community have to decide between buying food, having the lights on or running their heating. Energy, like shelter, water and telecoms, is essential for 21st century living.

“More and more Australians face the shocking reality of having their power disconnected. The Society assists people to pay their bills and buy food and we are also the largest distributor of the NSW Government’s Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers.”

The Society has seen an exponential increase in requests for vouchers. Since 1 July we have issued $660,000 worth of vouchers – giving out in a month as much as the first quarter last year. The greatest demand is in Gosford ($112,000), followed by Nepean ($50,000) and Wagga Wagga ($28,000). Last year a total of $3.25 million vouchers were distributed to 55,000 people in NSW.

“Mr Turnbull’s suggestion that by providing fact sheets to select a better energy plan or provider, Australian families will pay less for their electricity is patently not enough. As he acknowledges, millions of Australian households are paying up to $1500 more than they should,” says Mr de Groot.

“Customers who are likely to remain on the fringes of the competitive market must be adequately protected so they can remain connected and access energy without accruing unsustainable debts.”