In 2017, ICAN is embarking on its ‘Reconnection Tour’, to assist pensioners across Cape York and the Torres Strait, to access electricity rebates offered to them under government concession arrangements. Many remote communities in Far North Queensland operate on prepaid power card meters, where payment for electricity is made in advance, while consumers living in urban centres receive quarterly bills.
ICAN’s Reconnection Tour will see ICAN’s highly skilled outreach team connecting with eligible pension card holders to the $320 a year Queensland Government rebate. It will reconnect with key community service providers and train them in the energy rebate process, to ensure eligible persons are able to access the concessions.
“We’re talking about a potential $1.48 million annual savings for these communities if we can get the current 10% take up figure, up to our 100% goal in the next few years”, said Aaron Davis, CEO.
In 2013, ICAN was commissioned by Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) to conduct community consultations in Palm Island, Mapoon and Wujal Wujal Aboriginal communities on Electricity prepayment meters and customer experience in remote Queensland. The customer interviews were designed to get an insight into the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with electricity pre-payment meters*. ICAN’s research team interviewed 35 participants and provided the quantitative and qualitative data to QCOSS for the final research report.
ICAN and QCOSS used the consultation findings to inform the Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply on areas of success and inequality in the system. The consultation highlighted that above 90% community residents interviewed were happy with the system as it helped them manage their finances. The inequality found in the system was that people weren’t able to access concessional rebates and have a choice in Tariff settings like the rest of Queensland. The report noted;
“A key issue in improving the affordability of electricity for households in remote pre-payment meter communities is the lack of awareness and uptake of concessions. The Queensland Government provides a number of energy concessions to assist eligible low income and vulnerable consumers with their energy costs. While there are no specific eligibility criteria which exclude pre-payment meter customers from accessing these concessions, uptake is negligible. Further, the stakeholder interviews revealed much confusion across government and Ergon representatives about whether pre-payment meter customers are actually eligible for government funded concessions*.”
In 2014, the Queensland Government made changes to who can access the rebates, extending access to prepaid power card customers. ICAN undertook the first trial for accessing rebates for Palm Island customers. In August 2015, Shelter Housing Action Cairns (SHAC)** undertook community engagement in the Wujal Wujal and Hopevale communities to support prepaid power card customers to access the rebate, with a broader scope of understanding the energy needs of remote Indigenous communities, holding conversations about energy usage and understanding the impact of rising energy costs. In partnership with Ergon Energy, SHAC was able to hold community meetings and a door-to-door campaign to actively support people to sign up to the concessions. A community development process allowed for feedback by participants in SHAC’s Remote NILS program and the wider community to be directed back to Ergon about how criteria for accessing the rebates needed to change. Similarly, ICAN’s work with Palm Island customers was also able to feed into this process.
“Feedback was also received from the [Ergon] Concessions Team who felt that having someone assist their customers through the registration process greatly improved the efficiency and outcome of the process” said Sharon Edwards, My Money Financial Inclusion Manager at SHAC.
The work undertaken by ICAN and SHAC since the inclusion of prepaid power card customers in the energy rebate has been a great start. From this work, we know that where support systems are put in place for communities, there is a greater take up of the concessions available. A goal for ICAN over the next two years is to continue this work, in order to increase the take-up of electricity rebates in remote Indigenous communities throughout Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands. The current take-up of electricity rebates by eligible customers in communities that use the power card system is still hovering at just below 10% since their introduction in 2014.
“Almost three years have passed since the Queensland Government included power card customers in the rebate scheme and the QCOSS report was published. We know that electricity costs are having a dire impact on the family budget in these communities, exacerbated by the significantly higher costs of food, fuel and consumer goods. There is still a significant amount of work to be done and we’re up for the challenge”, said Mr. Davis.
The tour will reconnect people with their Superannuation, providing free superannuation searches, do-not-call registration and distribution of targeted consumer education resources. It will also provide the opportunity to re-establish referral points and promote ICAN’s financial counselling services and Yarnin’ Money financial literacy training program.
The ICAN Reconnection Tour is made possible through funding provided by the Queensland Government’s Financial Inclusion Program to provide financial counselling and literacy services to the Tablelands, Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands. ICAN will work with QCOSS, Ergon Energy, QLD Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, QLD Department of Energy & Water Supply and NQ Indigenous Consumer Taskforce partners to ensure the ‘Reconnection Tour’ is a success.
Please contact us at 1300 369 878 if you’d like to reconnect with ICAN in your community.
*Source: Queensland Council of Social Service 2016, ‘Electricity prepayment meters and customer experience in remote Queensland’, https://www.qcoss.org.au/sites/default/files/20140819_QCOSS%20Report%20on%20Remote%20PPM%20Customers%20Final.pdf.
**Information provided by Sharon Edwards, Shelter Housing Action Cairns.