As climate change increasingly impacts life in Western Australia - our environment, economy, and day-to-day activity - we know it is the most disadvantaged in our community who are most affected. Yet they are the people facing the highest barriers to making sustainable changes to reduce their carbon footprint and cost-of-living. In the 2022 Understanding Utility Hardship report, WACOSS and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre found families in the lowest 20% of household income in Western Australia spent 6.4% of their pay packet on heating and cooling, compared with 1.5% for the highest 20%.
At Anglicare WA, we work with individuals and families experiencing entrenched disadvantage through our state-wide services delivered across 86 locations. Through this work, we have learned it's not that they’re indifferent about climate change or their family’s long-term future; rather a certain level of privilege is required to take practical action. Households need the financial capacity to think beyond their next rent payment or next meal; fiscal freedom is necessary to choose to live sustainably.
With its commitment to improving WA’s environmental scorecard, the State Government has implemented a range of sustainable measures to reduce our carbon footprint, including steps to include all Western Australians in the journey. In 2021, Energy Policy WA created the Household Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES), which saw energy retailer Synergy partner with the Financial Wellbeing Collective to trial the new service. The Collective is a collaboration of not-for-profit community service organisations and local government who provide a range of integrated and person-centred services, with the aim of reducing the drivers and impacts of financial hardship in the Western Australian community.
On behalf of the Collective, Anglicare WA delivered the HEES Pilot, working with 167 participants experiencing financial hardship. Anglicare WA CEO Mark Glasson said the service’s goal was to alleviate utility debt by helping customers to improve their energy literacy and connect to appropriate energy and complementary services, helping to reduce their energy consumption, and in turn their utility bills, as well as decreasing their carbon footprint.
“Where possible, Energy Coaches conduct home energy assessments; they go into the home, work through every room measure the energy use of appliances, look for inefficiencies in heating and cooling, and produce an Energy Efficiency action plan tailored for their living situation,” Mr Glasson said. “Households are also provided with an Energy Efficiency Pack containing small but significant improvements like LED globes and draught stoppers.”
Mr Glasson said the feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with significant improvements in households’ energy literacy and ability to maintain payments to their power provider.
“Whether it was “knowing the cost per hour of the power and how much I'm using”, “learning how to save on electricity and being able to incorporate the recommendations into daily living”, or “finding out that we are doing the right thing, energy wise”, the users’ unanimously reported the usefulness of the service.”
The participant responses highlight the value of partnerships between not-for-profits and corporates, in this case with Synergy, a State Government-owned corporation, said Mr Glasson.
“By working in really close partnership with Synergy, the HEES Pilot has been able to achieve some incredible results. When you have a corporation who wants to make real change to the lives of people in their community, they can come to us knowing we’ll make sure they get the best possible return on that investment.
“The HEES Pilot showed by working in an intentional, targeted way, we can achieve a lot in a relatively short space of time. By collaborating closely with both the energy retailer and the participant we were able to make real change to reduce both their utility bills and carbon footprint.”
During the HEES pilot our Energy Coaches saved some households an average of $1700 per year, Mr Glasson said.
“The savings alone make a huge difference to the financial situation of each of these households, but it's also empowering participants to be part of WA’s collective action on climate change.
“We welcome the State Government’s leadership in its support for this program, and its ongoing commitment to bringing all Western Australians on the journey to net zero.”
Financial Wellbeing Collective: thefwc.org.au