Aussies forced to choose between GP visits and paying high electricity bills

By Kelly Emmerton ·

As Aussies brace for a July 1 energy price hike that could see bills skyrocket by 20% or more, the NSW Council of Social Service has released a report showing that some households have been pushed to breaking point by high electricity bills.

The report was based on a survey of 440 people living below the poverty line in Australia, and found many of them were forgoing basic health services and even meals in order to pay mounting electricity bills.

Of those surveyed, 22% were skipping meals to keep the lights on, while 25% were cancelling doctors appointments, and 36% skipped seeing a dentist. 

“For these individuals and families the reality is that they are skipping meals, delaying health treatment, not using hot water for bathing and going to bed early to save energy – all to pay their energy bills,” said NCOSS chief executive Tracy Howe.

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And it seems energy retailers are well aware of the impact price hikes have on their customers. At the beginning of June, EnergyAustralia announced it was expanding its hardship programs, committing an extra $10 million toward support for vulnerable households.

Under this hardship program, customers are exempt from late fees, fees for receiving paper bills and fees for settling their account using a credit card.

But according to NCOSS, hardship programs aren’t doing enough to help struggling households stay on their feet.

"We acknowledge that Government and retailers do offer a range of supports to low-income households. But the picture we see is that this assistance is not always working well for those who need it most. Supports are poorly understood, not well accessed, and often undermined by a lack of coordination,” said Howe.

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The NCOSS survey found that 45% of respondents said the NSW Government should make policies surrounding affordable essential services its highest priority.

"Retailers need to do better to ensure that vulnerable people are on better deals, so that their bills are as low as possible, and that government supports provide the most possible benefit to them,” Howe said.

The long-awaited review of Australia’s electricity market, conducted by Alan Finkel and released earlier this month, outlined a plan to reduce emissions and lower household bills by around $90 a year. But Finkel’s suggestions also caused some debate over the place of coal in Australia’s Energy Future, so we will have to wait and see if money saving changes are actually put in place.

In the meantime, Aussies can keep their electricity bills as low as possible by regularly reviewing the offers on the market, to ensure they’re getting the best deal. If it’s time to check your energy plan is still good value, head over to our electricity comparison tool to find some of the best offers around.

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