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  • Power bill pressure bites as people like Alison Coats face energy disconnection for not paying
  • By Frances Bell
  • 24/10/2019 Make a Comment (2)
  • Contributed by: Andy ( 6 articles in 2019 )
Alison Coats had her power disconnected after she struggled to meet her bill payments.
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Alison Coats was juggling a new full-time job at an inner-city law firm and raising three young boys when her power was cut off.

Key points:
  • A growing number of people are struggling to pay for power and other basic utilities
  • Electricity disconnections for unpaid bills in WA more than doubled in just three years
  • A scheme run by Anglicare WA is dealing with up to 200 people seeking help a week
    "Pretty much over the space of a weekend my life changed, imploded," she said.

A complex marriage breakdown later left her unable to work or pay the bills, which were all in her name.

"I was left with pretty much nothing, with electricity being cut off, phone at home being cut off, my mobile was connected to the home phone, that was disconnected," Ms Coats said.

"It was embarrassing, it was very stressful, it was very anxiety-provoking."

Ms Coats is one of a growing number of West Australians who has experienced so-called "utility hardship" — the struggle to stretch the household budget to pay for basic domestic necessities.

Ms Coats is now a financial support worker and is using her experience to help others.

Figures published this week showed the problem was worsening at a time of subdued economic conditions and low wage growth.

Electricity retailers Synergy and Horizon cut off more than 22,000 customers in the 12 months to the end of June, meaning disconnections for unpaid bills had more than doubled in just three years.

The figures mean more than 60 West Australian customers are having their electricity cut off on average each day for failing to pay their bills.

One in three struggle to make ends meet in WA

  • The Australia Talks National Survey found 31 per cent of Australians find it difficult to make ends meet
  • Rural WA is struggling with living costs more than any other region of Australia
  • 41 per cent of residents in rural WA are struggling and 37 per cent in outer metro areas

Use our interactive tool to see the full results and how you compare.

Hundreds seeking bill help every week

Some of these customers are eligible to apply for the WA Government's Hardship Utility Grants Scheme (HUGS), a grant of up to $580 to maintain or regain connection to power, water or gas services.

Run by Anglicare WA, the scheme is dealing with up to 200 clients a week.

"Anyone can fall into utility stress," HUGS manager Hadassah Morrisey said.

"Underemployment is certainly a big thing we're seeing. Clients who are working, but just can't stretch their budget any further.

HUGS manager Hadassah Morrisey says anyone struggling to pay their bills should seek help early.

"With limited growth in wages and Centrelink payments, it certainly has impacted the ability of clients to pay their bills."

The McGowan Government increased power prices by 11 per cent and 7 per cent in its first two years, before imposing a more modest 1.75 per cent hike for 2019-20.

Compromising to make ends meet

Ms Coats is now employed by HUGS as a financial support worker, and has found her personal experience has helped her compassionately deal with clients struggling to pay their utility bills.

A woman in a black top looks at a power bill over a dining table with a cup of coffee in the foreground.

Ms Coats says she was "left with pretty much nothing" after her utility bills piled up.

"People prioritise food, particularly with children in a household," she said.

"But I'm seeing people often not being able to buy their medication that they need because they can't afford it."

"A lot of people are dropping their insurances, no vehicle insurance, no contents insurance, certainly no health insurance."

Ms Morrissey urged anyone struggling to pay their bills to seek help early.

"They should certainly reach out to their utility provider, the earlier the better, to look at payment plans and have a conversation about their hardship options," she said.

A black toaster is plugged into a white electricity socket, with two plugs and a third switch labelled "fridge".
There are a number of payment options for people in trouble with their bills, Synergy says.

Synergy said disconnection was a last resort, with services including financial counsellors made available to customers facing hardship.

"Should a customer be having difficulty paying their energy bills, Synergy offers a number of payment options such as payment extensions and arrangements as well as range of free specialised services including Keeping Connected and Power Assist programs," a Synergy spokesperson said.

The Government has vowed to keep future power price rises lower than those imposed in its initial years, with WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt saying the worst of the increases were over.


    By:Sam from Queensland, Australia on November 7, 2019 @ 11:27 am
    Look up Treasury [Government owned corporations]to reveal that the ultimate owners are the People of Queensland. So if we are the owners how come we have to pay anything. Perhaps it is the process that they [The trustees] use to trick the ultimate owners [Beneficiaries] into accepting the legal person referred to in the mail...
    We tend to falsely assume that the corrupted text all capitals name is ours. It is not.
    By:Damo from Sth Aust, Australia on October 24, 2019 @ 6:56 pm
    Not just WA but everywhere

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