Energy bill stress


Sunbury residents are seeking emergency funding to fix or replace ageing and inefficient heaters, as soaring energy costs continue to cause financial pain.

Parents of children with special needs have also been forced to seek help to stop electricity bills piling up as they struggle to juggle heating costs with other household necessities.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence is calling for an urgent review of the state’s electricity market, with a report revealing that household power bills have increased more than 200 per cent in the past six years. CareWorks SunRanges manager Michael Austin said rising electricity prices, combined with welfare cuts and other cost of living increases, were making things difficult for some locals.

He said the Sunbury-based emergency relief organisation dealt with many people who could not afford to even investigate cheaper heating options.

‘‘If you’re renting, many places only have electric heating or older gas appliances and that can be very expensive,’’ Mr Austin said.

‘‘It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. Some people have to choose between being cold or turning the heater on then dealing with bill shock.’’

Mr Austin said while no-interest loan schemes and hardship provisions could help in some cases, there was a need for improved frameworks to help people on low incomes avoid the pitfalls of rising energy prices.

He urged anyone struggling to meet their financial obligations to seek help early.

‘‘Don’t simply hope the problems will go away,” Mr Austin said.

Brotherhood of St Laurence senior manager Damian Sullivan said “battler” households were especially vulnerable to rising electricity bills, with fixed charges making up 30-40 per cent of the annual cost.

‘‘The high fixed charges mean that these households, which generally use less electricity than high-income households, pay much higher average prices for their power,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

‘‘They also spend a bigger proportion of their weekly income on energy and it’s harder to find the money for electricity price rises when you are on a small household budget.’’

The Brotherhood’s research found that Victorian electricity disconnections increased from 6249 in 2007-08 to 34,448 in 2013-14.