GRIEVANCE DEBATE: SA WATER


Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 15:35 :14 ): Prior to the luncheon interval, I was making some comments on the budget; regrettably, the time allocated was all too soon brought to an end. I wish to conclude some of those remarks.

An honourable member interjecting:

Mr GARDNER: Indeed. I was unfortunately distracted early on in my speech by some extraordinarily unusual comments and behaviour by a member of the government benches and ran out of time. Fortunately, we have this brief time now to resume. I will conclude the comments that I was going to make. At the time, I was quoting from a letter from the Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion to a constituent of mine.

The context was in relation to the water bills, for which my constituent had previously been receiving concessions last year. Because of a change in the form of pension my constituent was receiving, and the way that the concessions were applied, her concessions were cut off and it took a long rigmarole to identify how to restore those concessions and find out what was happening for the time in between. I was quoting directly from the letter, and I will continue now. The minister wrote:

The March bill incorporated the $221.25 concession. The bill totalled $653.96 with the account summary indicating

a previous balance of $331.06

an amount paid of $293.56, and

new charges of $616.46.

The previous balance represents the amount outstanding from [your constituent's] previous accounts. The amount paid comprises the $72.31 [your constituent] paid on 29 February 2016 and the $221.25 concession.

I am unable to comment on the process used by SA Water to calculate the December and January bills, as this does not fall within my portfolio responsibilities. However, I am satisfied the concessions were correctly applied to the March account.

Regarding concession visibility, as [your constituent] now holds a LIHCC, she will no longer see the concessions listed as separate items on her SA Water account, as is the case for PCC holders.

Due to the way SA Water processes its accounts, concessions for Health Care Card holders, including LIHCC, are not displayed on the bill as a separate item. For this group of cardholders, the concession shows as the difference between new charges incurred and the amount due on the bill. To determine if the concession has been applied, customers compare the amount due and the new charges and, excluding any outstanding balance from previous accounts, will be able to calculate the difference which represents the concessions.

The concession amount on water charges for owner-occupiers for a financial year is 30% of the total amount of the water charges, subject to the minimum ($185) and maximum ($295) amounts. Concessions are calculated at the minimum concession per quarter; this means that on her next bill, [my constituent] should look for a concession of $73.75 ($46.25 water concession and $27.50 sewerage concession). She may also be entitled to a top-up water concession. While SA Water processes PCC holders automatically, LIHCC holders are required to submit all water accounts for the financial year to DCSI, to enable DCSI to determine if customers are eligible for the top-up.

If [your constituent] needs any more information, I would encourage her to call…

And she provides some details. I am certain my constituent has needed more information after receiving this letter because I am not sure if anyone here was able to fully understand it. I certainly think that everyone can understand exactly why so many of our constituents are confused when this is the approach that is taken. I again quote the minister's letter:

I am unable to comment on the process used by SA Water to calculate the December and January bills, as this does not fall within my portfolio responsibilities. However, I am satisfied the concessions were correctly applied

My constituent is paying hundreds of dollars of water bills, having concessions reapplied and backdated and put on new bills and then retrospectively provided. It is confusing as all hell to any member of the public.

Especially given that so many of the people in our community receiving these concessions are vulnerable, the government needs to get its act together. The government needs to sort this out and stop passing the blame from DCSI to SA Water, back and forth, back and forth, as my office found, when we tried to assist this constituent and were constantly shunted back and forth, back and forth. There are some good people working in these areas, but the processes set down by the government make it impossible for people to effectively administer and very difficult for members of the public to understand. The members of our communities deserve better.