The number of Australians on energy bill hardship programs is now higher than the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the greatest concern for customers being the risk of another interest rate rise.

Representatives from EnergyAustralia, AGL Energy and Origin Energy told the Cost of Living Committee at its hearing in Perth that there has been a “significant increase” in the number of customers on hardship plans.

One energy retailer reported that the number of customers on hardship plans had almost doubled from the peak of the pandemic, and they expected the number to increase into the future.

The Committee heard that “more supply is critical” to reducing energy prices, but that the Albanese Government’s interventions in the gas market “tend to discourage supply”.

An “unprecedented demand” in the number of Australians seeking charitable assistance is also being reported across various organisations in the West Australian charity sector.

Foodbank WA said they were now providing food assistance to dual income households, a demographic they said they “never expected to support”, with the number of eligible Foodbank cardholders recently skyrocketing from 5,000 to 14,000 due to the cost of living crisis.

The Salvation Army said it had seen a 60% increase in wage earners seeking assistance, while the Anglicare WA said employed people coming to it for assistance had tripled in the last three months.

Exasperating the challenges charities are facing is the fact that the sector is not seeing donations increase at the same rate as requests for assistance, and it is harder to find volunteers.

Chair of the Committee Senator Jane Hume said that the increase in the number of Australians accessing hardship programs and charities, shows the very real impact the cost of living crisis is having on families.

“Labor went to the election promising a plan to lower the cost of living and reduce energy bills by $275, but the evidence we heard today is that energy bills are going up, and Australians are struggling to cope.

“The fact that there are now more Australians on hardship programs than during the peak of the pandemic and the fact that charities are now servicing dual income households, show that Australians are not better off under Labor.”

Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Dean Smith said the charities and non-profits sector is operating in a perfect storm of record demand and rising overheads.

“Charities are working in overdrive, but their own costs are up - one told us today they’ve spiked 66% - while both donations and the supply of volunteers are generally down,” Senator Smith said.

“And a light is now being shone on ‘hidden’ hardship, households with two working parents, not eligible for Government financial and housing support, but living in cars with their kids and relying on food support.”

“These are the very human faces of the Albanese Government’s cost of living crisis.”