Key changes to strengthen the Hardship Utility Grant Scheme (HUGS) and ensure it continues to allow Western Australians most in need to maintain connection to essential energy and water services come into effect today.
In the 10 years since its inception, HUGS has provided a total of 239,184 grants to vulnerable Western Australians at risk of having their utilities, including electricity, gas and water, disconnected.
Last year the introduction of a third-party assessment for non-concession cardholders, known as the HUGS Service Centre, led to HUGS applicants receiving a more comprehensive assessment of their needs and assistance to access other support services to address circumstances that lead to hardship, including financial counselling, drug and alcohol and domestic violence services.
A further expansion of the HUGS Service Centre from 1 July 2019 will provide a consistent approach for all HUGS applicants, regardless of their concession status.
Additional policy changes to further strengthen HUGS and the focus on the shared responsibility principle, while also ensuring HUGS expenditure is targeted towards customers in the most need will also be implemented.
An additional grant amount of up to $50 for some HUGS applicants, where utility providers also waive an equivalent amount of debt will be introduced, incentivising shared responsibility for both customers and utility providers.
Other changes include replacing the maximum debt threshold with an individual assessment undertaken by the HUGS Service Centre; r and increasing verification of hardship for repeat or return HUGS applicants.
The policy changes are part of a holistic shift from a single grant payment to overall hardship assessment and relief. They provide a stronger focus on the shared responsibility principle across Government with utility providers and customers to ensure HUGS funding is targeted to those most in need.
The policy changes will be implemented using a phased approach, commencing with Water Corporation customers from 1 July 2019 with full implementation achieved by the end of September 2019.
For more information, visit the HUGS information page on the Concessions WA website.