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Call for essential service costs relief for those impacted by COVID-19 measures

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has endorsed the national statement by more than 30 community services organisations calling on companies providing essential services such as energy, water, finance, rental housing and telecommunications to take steps to support those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including by committing to:

  • No disconnections of customers from essential services
  • Pausing debt collection and legal/bankruptcy proceedings
  • Waiving penalty and late fees.

SACOSS is also calling on the South Australian state governments to commit to a moratorium on debt collection activities, suspend all eviction proceedings and waive late payment fees.

SACOSS CEO, Ross Womersley said: “We support this national statement because we are particularly concerned about the impact that event closures and economic downturn have on casual workers in arts, hospitality, security and other gig-based industries here in SA.”

“These workers usually have low incomes and few wage-entitlements. If their work dries up they will quickly find themselves with mounting bills and no means to pay – that is why governments and suppliers of essential services need to step up and ensure that those people aren’t doubly punished because of their temporary loss of income.”

“It is also important for public health. The last thing we want is someone breaking quarantine to take a shift because a bill is falling due, or because the government can’t wait another month to collect a traffic fine.”

“We are not asking for handouts, just that people whose income has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak should not be additionally penalised and be given some more time to pay bills in this difficult period.”

“We are saying to utility companies: don’t disconnect households at this crucial time. And more broadly, we are saying to government and to a range of companies: don’t charge late fees or pursue debts when people’s income has gone and their chances of getting new work are at their lowest.”

“And we are asking landlords to sit down with any effected tenants and work out a payment plan before they take any further action.”

“SACOSS recent research on the experience of waged poor households with energy and telecommunications costs suggests that one of the key problems is unpredictable variations in income making budgeting and bill-paying difficult. The event cancellations we are now seeing and the downturn in industries like hospitality puts that problem on steroids here in SA.”

The national Community Sector Statement, which was led by the Consumer Action Law Centre is available here.