Parliament: Questions Kelly's Asked

Medical Heating and Cooling Concession

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before yet again asking the Minister for Disabilities and Social Inclusion questions regarding the medical heating and cooling allowance.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: It is more than a little frustrating to have to raise this matter again, having already previously asked these questions here in the Legislative Council and in my correspondence with the minister’s office. I feel, however, that it is imperative that these concerns that constituents have raised with me are satisfactorily met, and so here I am again asking these questions. The application forms for the concession, and the explanatory materials that accompany them, are seriously flawed. It is not a matter of them being confusing, or even ambiguous: they actually contain incorrect and misleading information. They do not just misrepresent the eligibility criteria for the concession: they specifically encourage ineligible people to apply for it.

Accompanying the form is a fact sheet that gives examples of medical eligibility for the scheme. It gives three examples of people who might apply for the scheme, one of whom is ineligible and two who are eligible. Unfortunately, the fact sheet is incorrect: all three examples given are ineligible. The examples given on the form indicate that individuals with complications from diabetes and individuals recovering from severe burns are eligible for the scheme, when in fact they are not. Eligibility, as the minister has repeatedly informed us, is limited to a list of nine medical conditions, and those nine conditions alone. Why then is the minister’s department distributing application forms and other materials that say otherwise?

I have already alerted the minister to the serious problems with the forms in questions I asked in this place in July and followed up those concerns in a letter soon afterwards. Despite this, when I checked DCSI’s website as recently as yesterday morning (a month and a half later) the same inaccurate forms and misleading information were still being distributed. I find it extremely concerning that despite the minister having been made aware of the problems with the application forms and accompanying materials, no steps appear to have been taken to correct them. My questions to the minister are:

1.Does the minister acknowledge that there are serious flaws and inaccuracies in the application form for the medical heating and cooling allowance and the materials that accompany those forms?

2.How many applications for the medical heating and cooling allowance have been rejected because doctors or people with disabilities have ticked the box on the form for the non-existent ‘other qualifying condition’?

3.Does the minister accept that much of the confusion regarding the allowance has been caused by the flawed design of the application form and the many inaccuracies contained in materials about the concession distributed by his department?

4.What steps will the minister now take to correct the information about the allowance that his department is distributing to doctors and people with disabilities?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers): I thank the honourable member for her most important question and her ongoing interest in this area. It is undoubted that a key priority for the Weatherill government is affordable living for South Australians. That is why this government has introduced the medical heating and cooling concession, to provide assistance to people on low incomes and pensions who may incur a higher energy cost because of their medical need to use an air conditioner or heater on a frequent and prolonged basis.

The concession is available to people who are on low or fixed income or pensions, such as those receiving an eligible Centrelink or Department of Veterans’ Affairs pension or allowance and/or who hold an eligible card. The concession is intended for those most in need, financially and medically. Applicants must provide evidence that they have a qualifying medical condition that has been clinically assessed as requiring close control of an environmental temperature due to an inability to self-regulate body temperature. The concession is not intended for people who feel uncomfortable or unwell in hot or cold weather. Whilst we can understand that discomfort, that is not the intention of the concession.

The Department for Communities and Social Inclusion is currently seeking further expert medical advice as to additional medical conditions that can be determined as conferring eligibility through the scheme, as the Hon. Kelly Vincent knows because that is exactly what I have told her in our communications in the past. A panel of medical experts is currently reviewing unsuccessful applications and associated documentation on behalf of Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, as the Hon. Kelly Vincent knows because that is exactly what I have told her in correspondence in the past. The panel is expected to complete the review in the near future.

Unsuccessful applicants have been advised that the medical eligibility criteria of the scheme are being reviewed and they will be notified of the outcome of this review. Cost pressure assistance measures will always remain a high priority for this Labor government, which is in contrast to what we have seen from conservative governments around the country. The South Australian government provides eligible applicants with a range of concessions towards public transport and household costs, which may include energy, water, sewerage, council rates and, of course, the emergency services levy.

In addition, the government provides concessions to eligible South Australians in areas of driver and vehicle licensing, dog registration, funeral assistance, the spectacle scheme and the residential parks scheme. This government has consistently and significantly raised these concessions, with an additional $23.9 million, I am advised, allocated in the 2011-12 state budget over the next four years. In the 2012-13 state budget the Treasurer announced an extra $4.2 million over the next four years to support households on low and fixed incomes who are experiencing high utility prices.

We will continue to work with the community sector to implement a program that will include a utilities literacy program to improve financial management and energy efficiency practices. These are the things the Labor government does to help out those who are most vulnerable in our community. The Hon. Kelly Vincent knows the answers to the questions she has asked in this chamber because of what I have written to her in previous correspondence.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: By way of supplementary question, whilst the review of the scheme is being undertaken, will the minister simply remove the other box from the application form so that no more ineligible applications will be received?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers): The Hon. Ms Vincent, despite all the attempts of assistance I have given her in this situation, simply does not understand the form. The other box is useful, the other box has been used by people who may have similar symptoms or a qualifying condition to ones—.