ENERGY bills for low-income households could rise 30 per cent a year through the introduction of smart meters, a system that charges consumers higher prices during peak consumption times.
Backed by the nation’s governments, smart meters are being rolled-out across Victoria and NSW, with other states set to follow.
The system, which allows power companies to set their prices based on peak or off-peak times, aims to help consumers better manage electricity use.
The Victorian roll-out already has been criticised by the state’s auditor-general, who found consumers paid an average of $150 more a year more for power.
A new study by the University of Melbourne shows it will come at an even higher cost to the the nation’s most vulnerable consumers, including pensioners and single parents.
The study, prepared for the Ministerial Council on Energy, found that the time-of-use pricing system increased power bills by up to $300 a year for low-income families.
About 30 per cent of households fall into this category and the increase represented a 30 per cent jump on their average annual power bills.
Report co-author, Dr Michael McGann, said pensioners and stay-at-home mums were not able to shift energy use from the peak day-time periods.
“So the ability of the poor to be able to afford electricity use to meet needs like cooking, cleaning, showering … is under threat,” he said.
“Any policies that make the poorest members of society worse off than they already are is unjust.”
The report recommends low-income households be exempt from the price hikes during peak energy times.
One of the nation’s largest welfare providers, St Vincent de Paul, agreed, saying national protections needed to be put in place.
“If the Commonwealth of Australia is serious about having a socially inclusive and fair society it will take a leading role in making sure that disadvantaged households are properly protected,” chief executive Dr John Falzon said.