Calls for help from people struggling to pay their power bills rise

CONCERN: Energy and Utilities minister Don Harwin with Vinnies Orange regional president Michael Horth in Orange in 2017.
CONCERN: Energy and Utilities minister Don Harwin with Vinnies Orange regional president Michael Horth in Orange in 2017.

Calls for help from Orange residents battling to pay their power bills has led to a massive increase in the amount of financial assistance being handed out.

The distributor of Energy Accounts Payment Assistance [EAPA] scheme vouchers in Orange, the St Vincent de Paul Society, has seen demand double.

Vinnies’ Orange regional president Michael Horth said power prices were having a major impact on people.

“We have experienced a significant increase in the amount of EAPA vouchers we have handed out in the region since the electricity power spike in July 2017,” he said.

“So far this financial year in Orange we have distributed $97,050 worth of EAPA vouchers compared to $42,950 from the same period last financial year.”

A Department of Planning and Environment spokesman said that figure, supplied a few days ago, had risen by Monday.

He said 530 households in Orange had received $100,750 in EAPA assistance since July 1.

“In that same time 44,484 NSW households have received $11,960,950 in EAPA assistance,” he said.

Vinnies NSW Bathurst executive officer Lukas Rajnoch said more support was needed to help families meet the increasing bills.

“A growing number of Australians are facing having their electricity disconnected or sacrificing on essentials to pay the bills,” he said.

“Unremitting increases in energy prices most severely impact lower and middle class households.

“Those with limited income in our community often face dire decisions, such as whether to buy food, pay their rent, or keep their lights on.

“These should not be decisions that anyone has to make.”

Mr Rajnoch said energy was a basic necessity for families and called on governments to act.

“Electricity prices have more than doubled in the past 10 years, with an average of 10 per cent of low income earners’ weekly pay going towards just energy cost,” he said.

“Customer who are feeling these price rises most severely must be supported so they can fairly access essential energy without accruing insurmountable debts.

“This is a price problem that must be addressed by government and energy companies as, although EAPA vouchers make a significant difference, this isn’t a long term solution.”

The EAPA voucher scheme switched from paper vouchers to an online system last year.

Customers can be given up to $300 [six $50 vouchers] for one bill [gas or electricity] or up to $600 [12 vouchers] for gas and electricity bills.

That can be increased in exceptional circumstances.