THE Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme was established by the NSW Government after electricity bills rose 117 per cent in the period between 2008 and 2018.
Graphs show the steep climb in prices during that period after decades in which power bills tracked fairly consistently in line with consumer price index rises.
There are a number of reasons why electricity costs suddenly soared under a privatised or partly privatised system, that also had to cope with the sudden closure of two major coal-fired power stations in Victoria and South Australia in 2016 and 2017 and high domestic gas costs. Consumers have also borne the brunt of years of “gold plating” of the system and “gaming” by providers that added hundreds of millions of dollars to the bottom line.
Spiralling power prices became one of the hottest political issues in the country, leading governments to respond with assistance schemes providing much-needed support for many struggling to meet their regular bills. The Department of Planning advises its EAPA scheme supported 55,000 power users in 2016-17 alone, with about $22 million in vouchers distributed in 2017-18.
Governments are to be acknowledged for recognising that the marginalised and vulnerable can be hit the most by rising electricity bills, and for investigating when there are questions about the transparency and efficacy of schemes, as there were about EAPA after an Upper Hunter charity reported anomalies.
A Deloitte report into EAPA, handed to the Department of Planning in May, 2018 and released after a freedom of information request, found that by and large EAPA is delivering and vouchers are not being “materially misused through maladministration”.
But the lack of documentation reported almost across the board was a concern that needed to be addressed, Deloitte found. An even more serious concern was inconsistency in payments by different providers in similar scenarios, which could raise questions about whether the scheme is fair to some of the neediest people in our community.
The Department of Planning has responded to the Deloitte report by improving training and monitoring and enhancing guidelines to achieve greater transparency and consistency for those needing vouchers.
It improves public confidence in an essential scheme while prices remain high.