Mother and her child heating up a legs in front of an electric heater. Domestic universal convector.

News Articles and analysis

Energy and health

Energy costs are a big issue for many Victorians, but all the more so for those with health conditions or disability, which can create extra energy needs and drive up bills.

Almost all households interviewed for VCOSS’ Power Struggles report had health issues demanding more heating or cooling, due to medical conditions that caused heat intolerance or long periods spent at home recovering from surgery, injuries or depression.

People with disability can also face higher bills than others because of additional, unavoidable energy needs, including where people:

  • have to charge communication and mobility devices like wheelchairs
  • have physical conditions requiring more heating or cooling
  • spend more time in the home
  • use a lot of energy for washing, cleaning or personal care.

The link between health, disability and energy costs shows up in the stats: there’s at least one person with a long-term health condition or disability in the majority (60 per cent) of households persistently struggling to heat their homes, and in more than one third (36 per cent) of households with ongoing bill payment difficulty.

And we’re seeing a sleeper issue emerge on mental health and energy use. The large majority (74 per cent) of people with poor mental health face bill payment difficulty on either a temporary or ongoing basis. People with poor mental health could be vulnerable to energy hardship if they find it difficult to work and earn an income, if high health costs eat into household budgets, or more time at home sends bills sky high. Certain mental health conditions can also make it more difficult to control energy use, manage finances or communicate with energy companies.

At the moment, the Victorian Government offers only limited energy payment support for people with health conditions or disability. There’s a specific concession for people relying on life support machines, and a ‘Medical Cooling Concession’ for people who can’t maintain a normal body temperature. But these are narrow categories, and other people with health- or disability-related energy needs miss out on dedicated payment support.

A new, comprehensive Energy for Health concession could change this, by reducing energy costs for people with conditions that:

  • are exacerbated by temperature changes
  • affect body temperature maintenance
  • create intensive washing, cleaning or personal care needs
  • require charging or using communication, medical or mobility devices
  • require lengthy periods of time at home.

Like the existing Medical Cooling Concession, a new Energy for Health concession could be set at 17.5 per cent of electricity costs, and apply in addition to the general electricity concession of 17.5 per cent. Like other energy concessions, the Energy for Health concession could be available to people on low incomes, like those receiving the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, Youth Allowance or Newstart.

Enough Energy for Health means improved quality of life. This isn’t only about staying warm in winter or cool in summer—it’s about meeting extra health and disability needs. Just like getting a prescription filled, at a price made affordable by government.

Enough Energy for Health means being able to afford heating when your child has chronic asthma, and not having to rely on the charity of the local McDonald’s to charge your wheelchair; a story VCOSS was told by one of its members.

Enough Energy for Health means comfort, dignity and a better life for Victorians and their children.

Peter is 75 years old and has lived alone since his wife died. He has numerous health conditions including heart problems, arthritis, asthma and cancer. Since the age of 14, Peter worked as a delivery driver. He’s now retired. Being unwell, Peter is at home and more sedentary than he used to be. He decided to get better heating, and has deductions from his pension to pay a no interest loan, used to install a reverse cycle air conditioner. Peter runs the unit in cold weather, but never uses it in summer for costs reasons, even though he can’t take the humidity that exacerbates his arthritis pain. Peter manages his medical and household costs carefully, but his health issues have made it more difficult. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme helps with the 15 medications prescribed by his doctors, but he regularly has out-of-pocket health expenses. Gas and electricity bills were a shock for Peter when they started going up. In winter, his electricity bills are high for a sole-person household.