Increased funding for WA Hardship Utilities Grants Scheme
The WA Government has allocated an additional $5 million to assist vulnerable Western Australians maintain access to energy and water services through the Hardship Utilities Grants Scheme (HUGS) program.
The increase in funding of $5 million in 2017-18 reflects that demand for the HUGS program has continued to grow. The Government recognises that the program's growth is driven by a range of factors.
The Government has taken steps to increase the options available to support people who face difficulty paying their utility bills.
The intent of HUGS has always been to assist people who are at imminent risk of disconnection to remain connected to essential services while developing options for managing repayments.
However, changes that will come into effect in the new year will require utility providers to offer customers flexible payment arrangements over a period of at least 180 days, before submitting a HUGS application.
Also, customers who have outstanding debt of less than $300 will negotiate the repayment of those debts with each utility and will not be eligible for a HUGS payment.
This new framework will work in tandem with the Government's reintroduction of financial counselling services in the Perth metropolitan area to HUGS for non-concession recipients, with an extra $13 million committed over four years which was announced as part of the 2017-18 State Budget.
Treasurer Ben Wyatt said, "Right now, anyone can apply for a HUGS grant. Our priority is to ensure that those who are most in need are supported.
"However, it must be the responsibility of utility companies to work with their customers to address outstanding bills. HUGS grants should only be available when utilities have exhausted other opportunities to assist their customers.
"These changes will ensure that the HUGS program is sustainable, and will be able to continue to provide assistance to the most vulnerable in our community."
18 December 2017.