04/01/2018 - 15:27

Nalder pans power pricing as disconnections grow

04/01/2018 - 15:27

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The number of electricity users disconnected for failing to pay bills increased around 60 per cent in Western Australia in the 2017 financial year, while more than 10,000 electricity users were on a hardship program, according to a report released by the Economic Regulatory Authority today.

Dean Nalder says recent increases to power prices will make the situation worse. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The number of electricity users disconnected for failing to pay bills increased around 60 per cent in Western Australia in the 2017 financial year, while more than 10,000 electricity users were on a hardship program, according to a report released by the Economic Regulatory Authority today.

The annual performance of energy retailers report also found a further 5,700 gas customers were on hardship programs.

Additionally, 22,850 power customers and 18,640 gas customers were paying back debts.

The number of users disconnected was at a six-year high in the 12-month period reported, the ERA said.

There was an additional interesting figure among business customers.

About 18 per cent of business customers were granted extra time to pay gas bills by their retailers in the 12 months to June 2017, about 80 per cent more than 2013.

But fewer businesses needed extra time to pay power bills, with about 6.9 per cent granted extensions in the 2017 financial year compared with 7.1 per cent in the year to June 2016.

ERA chair Nicky Cusworth said the data showed there was a correlation between the increase in customers seeking help to pay their bills and the rise in disconnections.

“There were more households disconnected that had a history of bill stress,” she said.

“These customers were previously on an instalment plan, held a concession card, or had been disconnected within the past two years."

Shadow Treasurer Dean Nalder used the report’s release to criticise the state government's approach to power pricing, with an increase in fixed charges meaning users are unable to reduce consumption to reduce bill shock.

“The number of people requiring Hardship Utility Grant Scheme assistance has hit record levels since those increases came in and now we can see the McGowan government knew full well what the impact of the enormous increases would be,” Mr Nalder said.

“This report also shows it is not just people receiving financial assistance who are doing it tough.

“On average, households that are not receiving financial hardship assistance are $384 in debt for electricity and $65 for gas. It is much worse for those receiving financial assistance, they have an average debt of $596 for electricity and $245 for gas.

“Energy Minister Ben Wyatt also had full knowledge his power price rises would disproportionately impact single household pensioners, which on average were hit with an unbelievable 30 per cent increase in their electricity bill.

“What was Ben Wyatt’s response to all this hardship – he has made getting financial assistance harder by forcing struggling households to wait six months before receiving hardship payments."

 

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