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Energy poverty on the rise, but community housing providers fight back

Large families on low incomes are most at risk from rising energy prices, according to a new report from KPMG, which labels these households the “real victims of energy poverty”.

The difference spent on energy between the bottom 20 per cent and top 20 per cent in terms of household income was only about $3 – $15.57 per person a week in the lowest quintile and $18.91 in the top quintile. While well-off household energy spend was relatively small as a percentage of overall expenditure, a low-income household with five people was spending about 12 per cent of weekly income on energy, The rise of energy poverty in Australia says.

As energy was a fixed rather than discretionary cost, the report said it was forcing “a reconstitution of budgets and priorities”, and affecting household quality of life, including on health and wellbeing.

There is an estimated 240,000 Australians in these 42,000 households, with about 200,000 expected to be children. Most were in Sydney’s southwest at Liverpool and Fairfield, and Melbourne’s north at Hume and southeast at Dandenong.

“The greatest victims of energy poverty are Aussie kids,” special adviser to KPMG Bernard Salt said.

KPMG Australia national sector leader, power & utilities Cassandra Hogan said the data showed “poor households with big families in the public housing estates of our biggest cities are most exposed”, with Indigenous communities also “almost universally exposed” to the issue.

“The issue of energy poverty is both an economic and a moral issue,” she said.

Tackling it required “government, industry and the consumer sector to work together to provide a better way forward”.

The report recommends:

  • Subsidising vulnerable customers through concessions/grants or via the retailers through making it harder for retailer to disconnect
  • Lowering the electricity costs facing such customers individually, through energy efficiency initiatives, better information to allow customers to benefit off the most cost-effective tariffs and technology enabling customers to adapt energy usage pattern to lower cost
  • Taking action to lower overall system costs so that all customers are better off and the prospect of affordability concerns is lower consistent with the ACCC recommendations

Community housing providers commits to high efficiency

Some community housing providers (CHPs) are working to increase standards so to reduce utility bills for tenants of social and affordable housing.

This week, NSW CHP Bridge Housing released design outcome guidelines for all its projects.

“The design guidelines set out the high expectations that Bridge Housing has for the design quality of all its new residential developments,” Bridge Housing chief executive John Nicolades said.

“Best practice environmentally sustainable principles, green communal open spaces to host social interaction, robust and durable construction, and excellent residential amenity, are some of the design characteristics that will set Bridge Housing projects apart.”

In terms of sustainability, beyond compliance with NSW’s BASIX, all housing projects will achieve a minimum 7 star NatHERS rating.

Sustainability initiatives used will include  “solar panels, grey water recycling, enhanced roof and wall insulation, and window types/treatments”.

“Housing should be more than just shelter,” Mr Nicolades said.

“It should provide a safe and comfortable home. We want Bridge Housing tenants to be able to say they have a great place to live with a real sense of community.”

SGCH also said it was working, with Clean Energy Finance Corporation finance, to upgrade 1400 existing properties, with up to $170 million also committed to help SGCH deliver about 500 high-performing energy-efficient homes.

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