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How life support affects an electricity bill

8 min read
30 Jul 2019

Life support machines are a lifeline for those with serious medical conditions. They can help Australians regain vital bodily functions, energy and independence. However, given these often require regular use, perhaps hours at a time or even non-stop, using them often comes at a cost: higher electricity bills.

In this article, we’ll cover how much electricity life support machines use, electricity rebates and how to register as a life support patient with your energy provider.

What’s considered a life support machine?

Any device that a doctor deems necessary to maintain your health might be considered life support, though the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) lists the following common examples:

  • oxygen concentrators
  • kidney dialysis machines (haemodialysis machines also use water as well as electricity)
  • intermittent peritoneal dialysis machines
  • Chronic Positive Airways Pressure Respirator (CPAP) machine
  • phototherapy devices
  • ventilators.1

Some of these devices may be eligible for a rebate through a concession program with your state government (see state government rebates below), but all of them need electricity to run.

How much electricity does life support use?

Dialysis machines, oxygen concentrators and haemodialysis machines (which uses electricity and water) typically use 1,880-kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity every year, according to the Victorian Government’s Department of Health and Human Services.2 CPAP machines, on the other hand, generally use fewer kilowatts per year.

It’s possible that you might have a life support device that’s more or less efficient than this annual 1,880kWh average.

How much does it cost to run life support equipment?

If you take the 1,880-kWh figure from the Victorian Government and apply it to the average electricity tariffs in Australia’s capitals (in-deregulated markets where customers have a choice of energy provider)^, it is possible to get an estimate of how much it might cost to run a life support machine for a year.

Example running costs for life support devices
CityAverage tariffExample cost at 1,880kWh per year
Sydney27.715 c/kWh$521.04 a year
Melbourne21.587 c/kWh$405.84 a year
Brisbane24.998 c/kWh$469.96 a year
Adelaide39.954 c/kWh$751.14 a year
^The average tariff is calculated from single rate electricity tariffs available to each city on our comparison service and are correct on 1 July 2019.

N.B. The electricity plans and tariffs you have access to are based on location, and you may find that the average single rate tariff in your area is higher or lower than the one used in the table above.

Western Australia, the Northern Territory, North Queensland, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have regulated energy markets, where there is either no customer choice in an energy company, limited choice or more government regulation on energy prices.

Using these average tariffs and the 1,880kWh figure, running a life support machine can cost hundreds of dollars on top of regular household electricity usage.

Are you eligible for a life support electricity rebate?

an energy meter behind piles of coins

Depending on which state you live in, you may be able to access a rebate scheme for the electricity your life support uses, which can help cover the cost of running your equipment.

Don’t forget that the Australian Government’s Department of Human Services also provides an Essential Medical Equipment Payment to eligible Australians who use life support machines or need to run heating or cooling for a medical condition.

The Essential Medical Equipment Payment rebate provides $160 a year for each life support machine and medically required heating or cooling costs.3 You may be able to access this national rebate on top of state government rebates as well.

New South Wales Government life support electricity rebate

The New South Wales (NSW) Government life support electricity rebate covers a range of life support machines and equipment, including home dialysis and PAP machines. The rebate changes depending on which device you use.

Life support equipmentRebate (per day)
Powered wheelchair (for people with quadriplegia)$0.30
Oxygen concentrators (FT)$3.11
Oxygen concentrators (PT)$1.85
Positive Airways Pressure (PAP) Device (FT)$0.71
Positive Airways Pressure (PT)$0.36
Enteral feeding pump$0.44
External heart pump$.011
Home dialysis$1.54
Phototherapy equipment$3.68
Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) pump$0.84
Ventilators$3.68
Source: Life Support Rebates. Planning and Environment, Department of Resources and Energy, New South Wales Government. 2019.

Victorian Government life support concession

Victorian residents with an eligible concession card who use an oxygen concentrator or intermittent peritoneal dialysis machine can apply for the Victorian Government life support concession. Those using haemodialysis machines can get a rebate for their electricity and water usage as well.

The rebate is the cost of 1,880kWh of electricity each year.4 This cost is calculated by using the average residential tariff of your energy retailer and is paid quarterly.

Haemodialysis users can also get the cost of 168 kilolitres of water a year discounted from their water bills.5

Queensland Government electricity life support concession

For Queenslanders to be eligible for the electricity life support concession scheme, they must:

  • have an oxygen concentrator or kidney dialysis machine that was supplied through Queensland Health or the Medical Aids Subsidy Scheme (MASS)
  • have an eligible concession card
  • be medically assessed by a health professional.

The Queensland Government life support rebate is paid quarterly.

Life support equipmentRebate (per quarter)
Oxygen concentrator$173.55
Home Dialysis$116.22
Source: Electricity life support. Queensland Government. 2018.

South Australian Government home dialysis electricity concession

Eligible concession card holders using home dialysis may be eligible for the South Australian Government’s home dialysis electricity concession. This rebate provides $165 a year to help pay for the running costs of the equipment.6

N.B. All rebates listed are accurate on 1 July 2019 and are subject to change.

Informing your energy provider about your life support machine

An old man fills out a medical form

If you or another person at home use life support equipment, you should notify your energy provider as soon as possible. You’ll need to complete a registration form to become a registered life support customer, and a doctor or medical practitioner will also need to complete segments of the form. 7

You might be able to find the form online and print it or contact your electricity provider so that they can send you a physical copy. Once you’ve registered with your energy provider, they’ll know your home requires a continuous electricity supply.

Alerting your energy provider is vital because the power may be turned off for maintenance and repairs to power lines. It’s also vital as it might be a necessary step for a life support electricity rebate.

Registering as a life support customer would make you entitled to life support protection; that means your energy provider would have to let you know ahead of time (four days prior) of any planned interruptions to your energy supply, as noted by the Australian Energy Market Commission.8

It’s essential you have a backup plan in the case of a scheduled loss of power or a blackout. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and AER suggest you consider the following:

  1. Where will you go? Will you visit family or a friend who can power your equipment?
  2. How will you travel? Is your method of transportation able to accommodate your life support machines?
  3. Who will you contact? If something goes wrong, who will you call for help, and how will you call them?9

Having a backup plan is crucial to getting through a power outage if you rely on life support.

Frequently asked questions

If multiple people in my home use life support machines, can I receive multiple rebates?

This may differ depending on the rebate scheme that may apply to you, but it’s possible that whoever holds the electricity account with an energy provider will receive two or more separate rebates on their electricity bill. Each patient will need to submit their own application form, however.10

Also make sure you inform your electricity provider that multiple people in your household use life support equipment so that the power stays on, or so arrangements can be made if the power is turned off.

Do I receive the rebate if a dependent family member uses life support machines at my residence?

If you’re the one paying the electricity bills, you’ll receive the rebate. It’s important that when applying for the rebate, all your details and your dependent family member’s details are correct.

Will I still receive the rebate if I change energy providers?

Yes, you’ll still receive the rebate if you change energy providers, though you may need to update your details with the state government department that provides your life support electricity rebate.

Don’t forget to make sure your new energy provider is aware that there are life support machines in use at your home, and submit the necessary paperwork.

What’s the higher ‘24 hours’ rebate, and why does it only apply to some machines?

Some life support machines are required to run 24 hours a day and thus have a different rebate. For example, the NSW Government life support electricity rebate pays a ‘part-time’ rate and a higher ‘full-time’ rate, depending on whether the machine is in use constantly through all hours of the day.11

Sources

[1] Customers using life support equipment. Energy Made Easy, Australian Energy Regulator, Australian Government. 2019.
[2] Life support concession. Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria State Government. 2017.
[3] Essential Medical Equipment Payment. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.
[4] Life support concession. Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria State Government. 2017.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Disability concessions and entitlements. Department of Human Services, Government of South Australia. 2019.
[7] Energy and Essential Medical Equipment. Australian Energy Regulator, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Government. 2019.
[8] National Energy Retail Amendment (Strengthening protections for customers requiring life support equipment) Rule 2017 No. 3. Australian Energy Market Commission. 2017.
[9] Energy and Essential Medical Equipment. Australian Energy Regulator, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Government. 2019.
[10] Questions – Life support rebates. Planning and Environment, Department of Resources and Energy, New South Wales Government. 2019.
[11] Ibid.
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Written by James McCay

James is a devoted husband, father, animal lover and history buff (particularly medieval history). He studied Creative and Professional Writing at QUT, and is often buried in a book. James also enjoys historical re-enactment, spending time with his dogs, and making furniture out of reclaimed wood. He hopes to make a positive difference for readers through his writing.

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