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Energy statement signals greater action on en. . .

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Energy statement signals greater action on energy efficiency for vulnerable Victorians

26 June 2015  |  

The Andrews Government’s latest statement on energy efficiency shows Victoria is on the right path to using energy efficiency as an important tool to help low-income households manage their energy costs, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

Saving Energy, Growing Jobs is an excellent framework providing a comprehensive approach to improving Victoria’s energy efficiency. In particular, VCOSS welcomes its attention to the role of energy efficiency in improving wellbeing and reducing living costs for vulnerable Victorians,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“High household energy use leads to more expensive bills, which can cause hardship, debt, and disconnection for some struggling families and people on low incomes. High energy use is often caused by poor quality housing and inefficient appliances and vulnerable Victorians often lack the funds to upgrade appliances or improve the energy performance of their housing due to financial constraints or because they are tenants.”

“The Victorian Government’s commitment to examine ways to strengthen the energy performance of existing buildings and to explore options to provide funding assistance for appliance and housing upgrades for those who need it most are steps in the right direction. As the largest housing provider in the State, the Victorian Government is in a position to take early action in the social housing sector, while examining assistance to vulnerable households in private rental or home ownership.”

“The proposed Residential Efficiency Scorecard self-assessment tool is a great first step to improve households’ ability to identify effective energy efficiency improvements they can make now, and potentially paves the way for future mandatory disclosure and minimum standard schemes.”

“VCOSS particularly commends the inclusion of information on how properties perform during heat-waves. We know that more Victorians die in heat waves than during any other natural event and improving knowledge and awareness of our biggest natural killer is essential to help at-risk people manage their safety.”

“VCOSS also welcomes the commitment to strengthening the role of energy efficiency in broader support measures, such as concessions and energy retailers’ hardship programs. By bringing these different assistance measures together, they can have far greater impact to reduce energy costs for those in greatest need.”

“For many households, the largest barrier to energy efficiency improvements is the upfront cost. The commitment to investigate the use of innovative finance models is a promising response to this and VCOSS recommends including options to use No Interest Loan Schemes to help low-income households improve their energy efficiency.”

“The proposed legislation for local governments to use Environmental Upgrade Agreements to provide low-cost finance for energy efficiency improvements is welcome, and we urge the State Government to also consider its use for residential buildings as well as businesses.”

“Overall, Saving Energy, Growing Jobs provides a cogent and integrated direction for Victoria’s energy efficiency policy in the future. We look forward to working with the Victorian Government, including at the Energy Efficiency and Productivity Summit, to help improve the lives of Victorians struggling with low-incomes and high energy costs.”

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Tenancy reforms needed to reflect modern housing realities

25 June 2015  |  

Victoria’s tenancy laws should be reformed to reflect the reality of long-term renting and provide greater protections and security for renters, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“The Victorian Government is to be congratulated for initiating a wide-ranging review of tenancy law, which is well overdue. We now have an opportunity to improve our rental laws to help secure safe, affordable and appropriate housing for everyone who needs it,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Home ownership is increasingly out of reach for many Victorians and significant numbers of people are renting long-term, potentially for life. We need to modernise tenancy laws to reflect this new reality, by strengthening security of tenure in private rental, adopting minimum rental standards and protecting tenants from discrimination and unnecessary evictions.”

“While renters do not own the property they live in, it is their home, and their ability to preserve the security, privacy and liveability of their homes needs to be protected. Yet Australia’s tenancy laws provide some of the weakest protections for renters in the OECD.”

“Renters are disadvantaged in our housing system as they are depend heavily on the goodwill of landlords to maintain a decent standard of housing at reasonable rents. If landlords behave unethically, renters have limited recourse to the law, which can be time consuming and complex, and face high costs of moving and the difficulty of securing another home if they must find another home. At its worst, the breakdown of tenancies can lead to homelessness if evictions take place at short notice and tenants are living on low incomes.”

“Tenants also need to have an adequate range of support to enforce their rights, and secure a home if they are at risk of homelessness or eviction. In addition, tenants need to be confident that they will not experience discrimination in the housing market, due to factors unrelated to maintaining a tenancy such as having a disability, their cultural background, being Aboriginal, or their age.”

“Stronger rights and protections are common in rental markets around the world and Australia needs to begin the work of reforming our laws to reflect the modern realities of our housing market.”

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Published under Housing

One year on from Morwell fire, action needed to address ongoing crisis in Latrobe Valley

17 June 2015  |  

One year on from the Hazelwood mine fire, the communities of Morwell and the broader Latrobe Valley are calling for an urgent long-term strategy to deal with the ongoing economic and social impacts of the fire as well as pre-existing disadvantage, according to a report from the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“The Hazelwood mine fire has had a deep and lasting impact on Morwell and the Latrobe Valley, resulting in significant social and economic upheaval and leaving crucial community supports struggling to meet growing need,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Years of structural change and neglect, along with major service gaps, have left Morwell significantly disadvantaged and the impact of last year’s Hazelwood mine fire is proving to be a long-term crisis.”

“Local services, agencies and community members tell VCOSS they are concerned that authorities are quickly forgetting about Morwell and Hazelwood in the wake of the immediate emergency, when in fact deeper, more lasting, issues are only just emerging.”

The warning comes in a report, ‘One year on: Morwell and the 2014 Hazelwood Mine fire’, which examines the difficulties faced by Latrobe Valley communities in responding to the mine fire which blanketed the town in toxic smoke for 45 days.

The report, based on the experiences and feedback of community and social services working in Morwell, highlights the long-term impacts of the Hazelwood Mine fire including:

  • Loss of pride in the community, lack of trust in the rebuilding process, and the need for further community building activities to help it recover from the fire
  • Ongoing difficulties and lack of funding for community and social services organisations to respond fully to the complex and diverse needs of their clients
  • Operational challenges for community service organisations that have had to shut down essential services, lost revenue and face ongoing staffing issues.

“The mine fire was merely the latest in a long line of upheavals that have hit the people of Morwell and the Latrobe Valley that date back to the restructure and privatisation of the State Electricity Commission in the 1990s.”

“This is clearly a critical period for the Latrobe Valley. There is significant uncertainty of what the future might hold, and a real fear that the mine will ignite again,” said Emma King.

“While emergencies can cause great physical, financial and psychological hardship for all involved, they can devastate those who are already facing disadvantage.”

The report is being launched at the 2015 Emergency Management Forum hosted by and the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which will gather local, national and international experts to explore in depth issues and initiatives for vulnerable people in emergencies.

Read the full report One year on: Morwell and the 2014 Hazelwood Mine fire.

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Published under Emergency management

Rules ignored in energy disconnections

16 June 2015  |  

The number of wrongful energy disconnections has reached an all-time high in Victoria, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Over the last five years, total disconnections have doubled, but wrongful disconnections have increased almost six-fold. Energy retailers must be put on notice that Victorians will no longer accept a cavalier approach to compliance with customer protections,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

Over the past five years from 2009-10 to 2013-14:

  • Wrongful energy disconnections have risen from 295 to 1707
  • Total energy disconnections have risen from 28,959 to 58,626

“In 2013-14, most wrongful disconnections were due to breaches of the Retail Code specifically designed to protect customers facing payment difficulty, according to the latest report on energy retailers’ compliance from the Essential Services Commission (ESC).”

“The ESC report also warns that some retailers seem to believe that wrongful disconnections are unavoidable and an inevitable part of how their systems work. Wrongful disconnections only occur when retailers don’t fulfill their regulatory obligations. The only acceptable number is zero.”

The Energy Retail Code governs energy retailers’ behaviour, and details the steps retailers must take before disconnecting a customer for non-payment – such as sending reminder notices and asking if the customer needs additional time to pay or would like to pay in installments. If a disconnection goes ahead without these steps being taken, it’s a ‘wrongful’ disconnection.

 “Energy retailers have a captive market for an essential service. In return, they have obligations to ensure Victorians who face payment difficulties are connected up with genuine hardship programs and not wrongfully disconnected from their supply.”

“Their cavalier approach to these obligations demonstrates the urgency of the review of energy retailer hardship programs ordered by the Andrews Government and now being conducted by the Essential Services Commission.”

“Victorians need stronger protections and a more powerful compliance framework that gives the Essential Services Commission the capacity to enforce the rules for retailers hard when they commit serious breaches of those protections.”

WDPYou can read the full VCOSS Submission to Inquiry into the Financial Hardship Programs of Energy Retailers.

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Published under cost of living, Energy and Water, Essential Services

New research partnership to explore critical social issues in Victoria 

10 June 2015  |  

Promoting important research into the causes and impacts of poverty and disadvantage in Victoria will be the focus of a new partnership being launched by RMIT University and VCOSS.

The partnership will fund researchers to work within organisations on innovative projects that broaden our understanding of critical social issues in Victoria.

The RMIT University and VCOSS Industry Fellowship Research Program, launched today, will support a chosen fellow to spend up to six months researching an area relevant to their own field of expertise, to assist their organisation and the community services sector as a whole. This is the first in a range of collaborative research initiatives that will be rolled out through the partnership, including additional fellowship opportunities and the upcoming RMIT/VCOSS PhD Scholarship.

“Community sector organisations will benefit from quality research which seeks innovative solutions to social issues and meet the needs of people who are experiencing disadvantage. This is critically important if we want to create a just and fairer society aiming to build a Victoria without poverty,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“This research partnership can help identify trends and determine the most effective ways of responding to emerging social issues as they arise, and will help build and disseminate knowledge that may not have otherwise been possible to develop ,” said Emma King.

“This MOU is a terrific initiative and enormously important to VCOSS, RMIT University and this growing sector,” said Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean CBE, RMIT University.

“Since it started in 1887, RMIT has been about meeting industry needs; about helping to cultivate minds for skilled hands that deliver economic development. The MOU will produce this through fellowships and scholarships that link RMIT and the social sector in the deepest of ways.

“Ultimately, this valuable collaboration will lead to the co-production of knowledge, opportunities for careers and assisting to meet today’s pressing social needs – exciting news for this caring and critical sector and for RMIT.”

The Fellows will conduct their research from the RMIT School of Global, Urban and  Social Studies. They will receive an honorary fellowship/appointment with RMIT for the period of the fellowship, along with project support from RMIT and VCOSS.

The Industry Fellowship Research Program marks the first in a series of collaborative research initiatives between RMIT and VCOSS. Later in the year the two organisations will seek applicants for the RMIT/VCOSS PhD Scholarship, which will generate new evidence for the community sector in providing innovative solutions to overcome the complex causes of disadvantage and poverty.  Applicants for the Industry Fellowship Research Program have until 22 July to submit a research proposal via the VCOSS website.

VCOSS is also launching a major new report, Building on the value of Victoria’s community sector, which outlines the unique role of community sector organisations in strengthening the state’s economy and society. The community sector’s focus is supporting people to overcome disadvantage and poverty, effectively responding to short and long-term community needs, advocating on people’s behalf and building stronger communities.

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Whole community must respond to family violence

1 June 2015  |  

Victoria’s escalating rate of family violence demands a societal shift in thinking that calls our entire community to focus on preventing violence and keeping women, children and vulnerable members of our community safe, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

In its submission to the Royal Commission on the Prevention of Family Violence VCOSS calls for a comprehensive, state-wide strategy that focuses on prevention, early intervention, perpetrator accountability and which prioritises the safety of the most at risk members of our community. 

“Family violence is having devastating effects across our community, and it stands to reason that we need to respond to it as a community,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS

“The Royal Commission process offers Victoria an historic opportunity to create a plan to prevent family violence recognising the role our whole community has in making this happen.”

“The Victorian Government’s submission to the Royal Commission, released today, makes recommendations on improving safety and holding perpetrators to account, including stronger criminal justice responses.”

“It is important to respond strongly and appropriately to family violence when it occurs, but we also need a societal shift in preventing family violence that promotes a shared responsibility across the entire community and the whole of government.”    

“Preventing family violence, and responding holistically to the people that experience it is complex and multi-dimensional, and beyond the capability of any single sector or organisation to achieve.”

“Many people experiencing or perpetrating family violence will first come to the attention of services such as schools, health services and community organisations. Because these services have high levels of participation across the community, they provide a great opportunity to engage families at risk of or experiencing violence, and link them to support.”

“The VCOSS submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence recognises that community sector organisations are at the frontline, delivering critical services to Victorians every day and are often a first point of contact and significant referral pathway for people seeking support and advice in responding to family violence.”

“However, improving identification and referral of families into the specialist family violence system will not help these families if specialist services are unable to respond and assist them.”

“Family violence services within the community sector are facing overwhelming demand for crisis accommodation, counselling, referral and legal assistance. The publicity around the Royal Commission, as well as improved system responses will only add to the pressure specialist family violence services are experiencing.”

“The VCOSS submission recommends expansion of specialist family violence services including counselling, crisis accommodation, referrals and legal assistance.”

“VCOSS recommends the Royal Commission investigates improving integration between mainstream services and specialist family violence services and the potential for place-based approaches – such as integrated early childhood services and ‘schools as community hub’ models.”

“The prevention of family violence can only happen if we take a long-term, whole of community approach that prioritises the safety of all Victorians. The Royal Commission gives us an historical opportunity to begin this process in earnest.”

Read more on VCOSS’ recommendations to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

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Published under Family violence

Key shortfalls identified by Auditor General for vulnerable children and families

27 May 2015  |  

Victoria’s support services for vulnerable children and families are being overwhelmed by rising and more complex demands, according to a report released today by the Victoria Auditor General.

The VAGO report, Early Intervention Services for Vulnerable Children and Families, also finds that this rising demand is forcing services to concentrate efforts on assisting the most at-risk children and young people. This in turn means that some vulnerable children and families may not always be able to access services when needed or maintain engagement with services once these are provided.

“The growing gap between the need for early intervention and the ability of the service system to respond to all vulnerable families who need support is of significant concern,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“Many families face complex challenges and it is important that support is available early before problems escalate and require the involvement of child protection services. Victoria now needs to continue efforts to reduce the number of children entering child protection in the first place.”

“The Andrews Government has made welcome moves to strengthen Victoria’s service system by focusing on prevention and early intervention since coming into office. These include substantial investments in measures to help reduce the number of children and young people entering the system, greater support for carers and children in out-of-home care, and continued support for young people to transition from residential care to independent living and education, which were included in the recent state budget.”

“The VAGO report notes that community service agencies are delivering substantially more services than they are being funded for. This confirms what VCOSS has been hearing from our members about the inadequacy of funding to meet escalating levels of demand across the social services system.”

“The community sector generally is struggling with insufficient funding to cope with increasing demand for services and increasing complexity in the issues people are facing. Wages and prices both rose faster than the funding indexation rate over the 2012-15 period, which, along with a failure to fully fund mandated superannuation increases, has left organisations with an estimated 2.6 per cent real funding cut. While indexation for 2015-16 has been provided on the same basis as the previous three-year funding and service agreement, VCOSS welcomes the state government’s commitment to work together on future years’ indexation as part of ongoing service agreement discussions.”

“The report from the Auditor General gives us an important insight into the rising level of need for vulnerable children and families.”

“VCOSS welcomes the commitment from Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos to accept of all the recommendations made by the Auditor General. We look forward to working with Minister Mikakos and ministers in other relevant portfolios to improve the service system in order to offer Victoria’s vulnerable children the best possible start in life.”

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Published under Children

Social and economic contribution of community sector at risk from funding cuts

22 May 2015  |  

Cuts to the community sector locked in by the recent federal budget will put at risk the substantial economic and social contribution of Victorian community sector charities, according to a new report from the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Victorian charitable community sector organisations make an enormous contribution to the social and economic the state and must be supported,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“This report shows that charitable community sector organisations contribute substantially to the Victorian economy, generating approximately $13 billion in income and employing almost 97,000 people, equating to more than 3 per cent of the state’s workforce.”

“Community sector charities’ contribution to Victoria’s society and economy was more than doubled by its volunteer workforce, with almost 135,000 people volunteering in the sector, the analysis of Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) data also shows.”

“Yet the VCOSS report, Strengthening the state: A snapshot of Victoria’s community sector charities, warns that funding cuts locked in by the recent federal budget put community sector organisations at risk at a time of increasing demand and growing community need.”

“Many of the 2,672 community sector charities operating in Victoria identified in this data will have been hard hit by federal government funding cuts.”

“Victoria’s unemployment and youth unemployment rates are at their highest levels in decades and it is important to recognise the community sector as a key employer and powerful contributor to tackling unemployment in this state.”

“This report shows that community sector charities are one of the biggest employer groups in the Victoria, with the 97,000 people employed in the sector equating to more than 3 per cent of the state’s workforce.”

“Community sector charities employ more people than some other key industries, including the electricity, gas, water and waste services (34,900), rental, hiring and real estate services (47,300), information, media and telecommunications (64,000), arts and recreation services (69,600) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (82,200) industries.”

“There are more volunteers than paid workers in Victorian community sector charities and their contribution to both the economic and social impact of these organisations is substantial.”

“The vast majority – 91.1 per cent – of Victoria’s community sector charities are supported by volunteers and some sub-sectors of the Victorian charities community sector were almost completely reliant on volunteers to deliver services.” 

“Emergency relief organisations in particular are heavily reliant upon volunteers. The report finds that 96.9 per cent of emergency relief charities were supported by volunteers, with almost half, 49.2 per cent, employing 20-99 volunteers.”

“The largest numbers of volunteers were reported across charities whose main activity was social services (34,322), followed by other education (25,206), other health service delivery (17,229) and emergency relief (17,202).”

“Such high levels of volunteerism illustrate the extensive community support for these organisations. They are also help foster powerful community connections that are hugely important to the wellbeing of our society as a whole.”

“The majority of community sector charities support multiple beneficiary groups, reflecting the diversity of multiple and complex need within the community.”

Strengthening the state: A snapshot of Victoria’s community sector charities. 

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Published under Budget

Budget leaves most disadvantaged to do the heavy lifting

13 May 2015  |  

Last night’s Federal Budget spoke a great deal about fairness but it leaves the poorest Australians to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

“Several measures in the Budget are deeply concerning and will entrench poverty and disadvantage,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“It is important to note that these measures come on the back of devastating cuts to the community sector over the past 18 months. These include cuts to mental health services, child youth and family support, community legal services, and carer respite.”

“Forcing young people who are under 25 to go without payments for 4 weeks of every year will put vulnerable young people at risk of poverty and homelessness and will do nothing to address our spiraling unemployment rate.”

“There are approximately 800,000 people out of work in Australia – competing for only 150,000 available jobs. It is hard to understand how the government expects young people to survive without support.”

“You can’t punish people into employment.”

“The government’s decision to press ahead with last year’s changes to family tax benefits will be devastating for low income families. This measure will hit over 500,000 families including sole parent families with children older than 6 years, who stand to lose several thousand dollars per year.”

“The activity test contained in the ‘Jobs for Families’ package will unfairly disadvantage children whose parents are not in work. The loss of 12 hours per week of early childhood education for children in low-income families will deprive critical early-years support from those who it most benefits.”

“The Youth Employment Strategy does contain investments in school-to-work transition programs for unemployed young people, but these are funded at a substantially lower level than the successful Youth Connections program which was cut in last year’s budget.”

“We look forward to seeing more detail of the Youth Employment Strategy given the high number of Victorian young people who unemployed, underemployed, or at risk of disengagement.”

“The lack of action on ending tax breaks which favour wealthy Australians is another lost opportunity to create a fairer tax system that ensures we can fund the critical supports and services upon which people rely.”

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Published under Budget

Funding for school camps and excursions will help families this year

6 May 2015  |  

Tens of thousands of Victorian families will receive welcome assistance with spiralling school costs this year, with confirmation that new funding for schools will be fast-tracked in the state budget.

“Cuts to education supports by the previous state government meant more than 200,000 Victorian students started the current school year without the long-standing assistance of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to meet the costs of things like books, uniforms, camps and excursions,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“We know that this has hit some families, schools and community organisations hard as they struggle to cover the costs.”

“Yesterday’s state budget has moved to rectify these cuts and VCOSS has confirmed that funding will be made available in the current school year to help ensure students can access the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund.”

“In the lead-up to last year’s election VCOSS led a coalition of community organisations, families and principals to campaign strongly on the need to support families facing disadvantage to Cover the costs of schooling.”

“We are pleased that the state government has listened to the needs of students and their families, and prioritised supporting children to be able to participate fully in school.”

The state budget makes a significant commitment of $178 million over four years to help students from low-income families meet the costs of education, including:

  • $148.3m over four years for the Camps, Sports and Excursions fund, with $36.3m set for 2015-16 – and funding set to begin flowing through to schools this school year. This fund will assist families facing disadvantage to cover the costs of primary and secondary school trips and activities.
  • $15.7m over four years for affordable school uniforms, with $4m set for 2015-16 – this additional funding to support the State Schools’ Relief fund will provide additional school uniforms, textbooks and other essential items for children facing disadvantage who attend government schools.
  • $13.7m over four years for school breakfast clubs, with $1.5m for 2015-16 – Foodbank organisations will be funded to serve free breakfasts at 500 of the most disadvantaged government primary schools, providing meals to 25,000 children every day.
  • $400,000 over four years to provide vision screening and glasses, with $100,000 in 2015-16 – supporting Prep-Grade 3 children in the state’s 250 most disadvantaged government primary schools.

“This budget has also reconfirmed the state government’s commitment to the Gonski School funding agreement through until the end of 2017, helping provide some certainty to students, principals and parents.”

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Published under Budget, Education, EMA