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Government must fund energy performance and climate-resilience upgrades to all public, community and First Nations community-controlled housing

A new national survey has found over 70% of First Nations people struggle to cool their homes.

Being a Dept of Housing house, there is poor design and no insulation and not proper glass for windows and inadequate build. Also, can’t open the windows as they’re too hard to open, but Housing have done nothing to fix it.

That’s M talking, from Western Australia.

Nobody can afford $150 per week electricity, and if we want to use that tiny air conditioning unit in the bedroom, and we all sit in that room together, that is what it costs. I cannot maintain that. That’s why I couldn’t afford food, and direct debits weren’t being covered. Just horrible, horrible times. I wonder how much longer I can keep it up, honestly.

And that’s Rachel, from the Northern Territory.

Rachel and M were one of many respondents in a national heat stress survey by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) with assistance from the First Nations Clean Energy Network.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 80% of people said their homes get too hot
  • 60% of people receiving income support struggled to cool their home
  • 72% of First Nations people struggled to cool their home
  • 78% of people in social housing struggled to cool their home
  • 66% of people in private rentals struggle to cool their home
  • 80% said the high temperatures in the home made them unwell (94% of First Nations respondents)
  • 14% sought medical attention for heat stress (25% of First Nations respondents)
  • 94% had difficulty sleeping due to heat
  • 60% were finding it increasingly difficult to pay their energy bills, with 26% in or facing energy debt

ACOSS has put out a call for further government investment (in the May Budget) in energy efficiency, electrification and rooftop solar across all low-income housing types, including incentivising minimum energy efficiency rental standards.

We support that call.

Summary of ACOSS recommendations

  1. The Commonwealth Government establish a Special Purpose Funding Vehicle, with an initial injection of $2 billion, topped up by other sources, to invest in deep and rapid energy performance measures (energy efficiency, electrification and rooftop solar), tailored across low-income housing tenure types - public housing, community housing, First Nations controlled housing, private rental and low-income owner- occupier (see recommendations 2, 3 and 4 below).
  2. To improve the energy performance of social housing, the Commonwealth Government build on the existing $300 million social housing upgrade funds to establish a 7-year program to fund energy performance and climate-resilience upgrades to all public housing, community housing and First Nations community-controlled housing by 2030. First Nations housing energy upgrades should be prioritised and the programs should be developed in partnership with First Nations communities.
  3. To improve the energy performance of private rental properties, the following measures should be implemented.
    a. State and territory governments implement scalable minimum energy efficiency performance standards for rental properties, as part of broader standards for what constitutes healthy and habitable rental housing, with the aim to legislate standards by 2025 in all jurisdictions, providing 3-4 years for full compliance.
    b. The Commonwealth Government amend tax laws so that capital works deductions for new or replacement appliances for rental properties are only available for accredited energy efficient and electric appliances.
    c. The Commonwealth Government work with state, territory and local governments to establish incentive programs to private landlords, including through Environmental Upgrade Finance (EUF) instruments, to assist with access to low-cost finance and targeted subsidies (in exchange for caps in rent increases above CPI) alongside outreach measures and one-stop shops to support delivery.
  4. To improve the energy performance of homes of low-income owner-occupiers, the Commonwealth Government work with state, territory and local governments to establish programs, including through EUF instruments, to support home energy upgrades to all low-income owner-occupier home energy upgrades by 2030. Supports include free energy audits, subsidised upgrades, zero-interest loans, community outreach and one-stop-shops to support delivery.
  5. State and territory governments undertake energy concessions reform appropriate to their jurisdictions to better meet people’s energy needs and changing circumstances.
  6. The Commonwealth Government remove the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) levy paid through electricity bills and instead covers the cost of the scheme via federal government budget.
  7. The Commonwealth Government provide up to $2,000 per person experiencing energy hardship with unmanageable energy debt and work with retailers to provide additional relief to those customers with debts greater than $2,000 and help customers reduce their bills going forward.
  8. The Commonwealth Government immediately raise income support payments to improve the capacity of people on low incomes to manage energy bills, including JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Abstudy and Special Benefit to at least $78 a day, in line with the pension.
  9. Governments fund the provision of and access to locally and culturally appropriate free-to-use cool spaces to go to during hot weather. Prioritising community run spaces where people already go to for services such as community centres, libraries, neighbourhood houses, and other local community services.
  10. The Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments work collaboratively to prioritise a work program on heatwaves, which would include the examination of the impact of heatwaves on people and communities at risk, improve data collection, identify and elevate solutions to reduce associated risks. Communities and community services are supported and resourced to adequately prepare for these events and to have plans in place to support people most at risk to stay cool when these events occur.

Read the ACOSS Summer Heat Survey 2024 report