Community organisations today have welcomed AGL Energy Limited’s (AGL) $6m commitment to provide greater support for vulnerable energy customers.
Brotherhood of St Laurence, Financial Counselling Australia, Kildonan UnitingCare, Queensland Council of Social Service, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, South Australia Council of Social Service and St Vincent de Paul Society endorsed AGL’s Affordability Initiative and urged other energy companies to follow suit.
South Australian Council of Social Service Executive Director Ross Womersley said the organisations had been involved in discussions with AGL for several months about what customers needed and have now undertaken to work closely with the energy retailer to define the framework for expenditure by February 2015. They plan to ensure AGL makes good on its commitment.
“AGL is taking a leadership role in the industry in signalling that energy affordability must be addressed as an urgent priority. We welcome this initiative and what is ultimately better practice for vulnerable consumers,” Mr Womersley said.
Kildonan UnitingCare CEO Stella Avramopoulos said the average hardship customer energy debt had doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 in the past five years, with a growing number of “working poor” struggling to pay the bills.
“The cost of living has increased more than 30% since 2000 and electricity costs have soared by 87% – but people simply aren’t earning enough to keep up. Demand for our financial counselling and energy advice services has increased by 100% in the past year alone,” Ms Avramopoulos said.
Financial Counselling Australia CEO Fiona Guthrie said: “This initiative could not have come soon enough. Customers and financial counsellors tell us that it has become increasingly difficult to deal with energy companies, including AGL. This includes not being treated with respect and courtesy and difficulties in negotiating affordable repayment arrangements.”
Queensland Council of Social Service CEO Mark Henley said the Affordability Initiative’s allocation of significant funding to support payment incentives, independent financial counselling services and energy audit services was vital in today’s economy.
“As prices have increased in recent years, financial counsellors have played an increasingly integral role in helping households manage their bills and access the assistance they need to stay connected,” Mr Henley said.