According to consumer review and comparison site, Canstar, in November 2018 South Australia had the highest electricity prices in Australia at 42.88c/kWh, compared to New South Wales (33.12c/kWh), Victoria (28.25c/kWh) and Queensland (27.62c/kWh). The financial strain that the cost of electricity is putting on South Australian households is unfortunately too apparent for our Financial Counsellors.
One Financial Counsellor commented that she had an elderly client who confined herself to her bedroom with just an electric blanket for warmth, out of fear that if anything else was turned on she would not be able to afford her next electricity bill. Similarly, another Financial Counsellor commented that she had a client who was struggling to pay back a large outstanding electricity bill because her partner, who had recently passed away, relied heavily on electricity for medical reasons in the final months of his life. Therefore, not only did she have to manage the household budget with one less income but she had to repeatedly negotiate with the electricity provider to pay off the outstanding bill.
Unfortunately, these two stories are not isolated incidences; we hear hundreds of stories each month about the strain that the cost of electricity is having on South Australian households. Fortunately, the South Australian Government does provide financial relief through an Emergency Electricity Payment Scheme Grant (EEPS). However this $400 payment, which is only available to clients every three years, provides temporary relief for households feeling the pinch of the rising cost of electricity.
Although we cannot influence how much Energy Retailers charge South Australian households for Electricity, we can educate our clients to take the steps to manage their electricity consumption.
· We check with the client that they are receiving South Australian Government Concessions
· We check with the Energy Retailer that the client is receiving the best available deal/discount
· Through the Energy Retailer, we find out the client’s fortnightly electricity usage as a dollar amount to see how it fits within the client’s budget. If their fortnightly usage is high, we provide information to the client about accessing a Home Energy Toolkit from their local public library and/or contacting a free external Home Energy Audit Service to reduce their electricity consumption.
· We check with the client’s Energy Retailer if they are able to support the client through an incentive plan, whereby the Energy Retailer matches every one or two payments made by the client to assist them out of hardship.
Ultimately, we endeavour to empower our clients to take the steps to be in control of their electricity consumption. We emphasise to our clients that although the Energy Retailers dictate the price, the majority of what the client pays for is ultimately up to them and the electricity that they consume.
 Brendon O’Neill 2019, Average electricity costs per kWh, Canstar, viewed 4 June 2019, < https://www.canstarblue.com.au/electricity/electricity-costs-kwh/>
Imagine that you have invited 10 guests for pizza night. You go to the freezer, take out a pizza and look at the box, it says Serves 8. Your stomach drops, you don’t have enough pizza. What do you do?
You think, ‘I can make this work’. You cook the pizza, take it out to the table and start to slice. The pieces are all different sizes. You cut 9 slices and realise there is not enough pizza. You are willing to miss out, but one of your guests is going to miss out too. Who will it be?
You start to pass the slices around the table. Some of your guests are pleased with their slices, others are confused. One guest bangs their fist on the table demanding more pizza because they didn’t get enough. One guest snatches another guest’s slice before it can be placed on the table. The guest who doesn’t receive a slice just sits there staring at you, the following day they text you demanding 2 slices the next time they see you.
Your guests are like creditors.
Creditors are expecting a certain amount from you each week, fortnight or month and if they do not get this amount and you do not explain why, things can get messy.
The important thing to know about creditors is that they understand there are times when you do not have enough to go around. Creditors have trained teams of people to assist when this happens. Therefore, it is important to be up front and honest with your creditors about what has changed and how this change has affected your circumstances.
Do not hesitate. There are more options available to you, the sooner you take action.
If you would like to speak to a Financial Counsellor to discuss your options further, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 or search for the National Debt Helpline on the Affordable SA App.
If you have contacted an energy retailer in the past, chances are that the sales person would have offered you either a standing offer or a market offer contract. A market offer contract is set by the energy retailer and is designed to lure you in with competitive discounts. Whereas, the standing offer is a basic ‘bread and butter’ contract with no discounts that can often be more expensive than the market offer contract. In many cases, customers are unknowingly put on a standing offer contract once their market offer contract expires.
In July 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published the Retail Electricity Price Inquiry Report, which stated that consumers found the electricity retail market confusing and difficult to navigate.1In response to the 2018 Inquiry, the Australian Government introduced The Default Market Offer (DMO). The DMO is an electricity tariff set by the Australian Energy Regulator that acts a price cap for energy retailers. It was introduced to assist customers that were disengaged from the energy market and were subsequently paying higher energy costs on standing offer contracts as a result.
What does this mean for South Australian Households?
In July 2019, customers on standing offer contracts were automatically switched to their retailer’s DMO, prompting a future saving of up to $171 per year for South Australian residential customers. With the change to DMO prices, it is estimated that the average South Australia household on a single rate tariff (4,000 kWh/year) will pay no more than $1,941 per year for their energy.2
Although the introduction of the DMO will provide some relief for South Australian households, it is important that customers do not become complacent and accept rates and discounts at face value. To ensure they are receiving the best available deal, customers should regularly contact their energy retailer and discuss the following:
· Are discounts being applied to both supply and usage?
· Am I eligible to receive the ‘Pay on Time’ discount even if I pay in instalments?
· Am I receiving the best deal/discount available?
· Am I locked into a contract that would cost money to get out of?
· Are SA Government Concessions being applied to my electricity account (if eligible)?
Discounts offered by energy retailers are not the same as SA Government Concessions. If you hold a concession card, or you have recently changed energy retailer or moved house, call Concessions on 1800 307 758 or search for Concessionson the Affordable SA App or website for more information.
For more information regarding gas, electricity and water look under the [Utilities](https://affordablesa.com.au/programs/utilities) section on the Affordable SA App and website.
Mullane, J. (2019) ‘Default Market Offer (DMO) Explained’, Canstar Blue, 27 June. Available at: https://www.canstarblue.com.au/electricity/default-energy-pricing/(Accessed 26 August 2019)
Gudova, M. (2019) ‘Energy regulator reveals savings for customers paying most’, Canstar Blue, 30 April. Available at: https://www.canstarblue.com.au/electricity/default-market-offer-savings/(Accessed 26 August 20219)
A lot of people find lodging their tax return a little overwhelming. Whether it is your first time dealing with tax or you are running a business and can't afford to pay for professional help, even if you're new to the country and don't understand the expectations of the tax system, there is help available that can save you falling into a lifetime of tax anxiety.
The ATO has several Tax Help programs that can help you for free. All across Australia the ATO in conjunction with a range of community centres, Universites and organisations, have registered and accredited volunteers or supervised students and Tax presentations to help.
PERSONAL TAX RETURNS
Tax Help is a network of ATO-trained and accredited community volunteers who provide a free and confidential service to help people complete their tax returns online using MyTax. Tax Help is available from July to October in all capital cities and many regional areas across Australia.
You are eligible for Tax Help if your income is around $60,000 or less for the income year and you did not:
•work as a contractor, for example a contract cleaner or taxi driver (have an ABN)
•run a business, including as a sole trader
•have partnership or trust matters
•sell shares or an investment property
•own a rental property
•have capital gains tax (CGT)
•receive distributions from a trust, other than a managed fund
•receive foreign income, other than a foreign pension or annuity.
NATIONAL TAX CLINIC PROGRAM
The National Tax Clinic program is a government-funded initiative to help people who may not be able to afford professional advice and representation with their tax affairs.
This program is available to eligible individuals, small businesses, not-for-profit organisations and charities.
The ATO supports this initiative but the tax clinics operate independently from the ATO. UniSA has been funded to run the tax clinics and are available in the Adelaide CBD and Hackham West campus.
Qualified clinic managers supervise students, studying tax-related courses, to provide free tax advice and support at the clinics.
TAX INFORMATION PRESENTATIONS
The ATO offers presentations to increase people’s awareness about Tax as is relevant to their circumstances.
The sessions they currently have planned in SA are available at https://lets-talk.ato.gov.au/sbworkshopssa