Growing numbers in NSW struggling to pay energy bills

NEW South Wales has the most customers of any state on payment plans to repay utility bill debts, according to the Australian Energy Regulator's annual report.

The report, which had a particular focus on issues facing lower-income households, said although the average debt level in NSW was lower than in other states, the average NSW low-income household spent $1718 on electricity and $893 on gas in 2013-14.

"This suggests that many customers are taking steps to manage their debt before being threatened with disconnection and that retailers are being more proactive in identifying customers with financial problems," AER board member Jim Cox said.

"Help under a retailer's hardship program can include tailored payment plans based on what a customer can afford to pay."

An energy provider crackdown on unpaid bills revealed itself in the figures, with a 32% spike in the number of residential energy disconnections last financial year.

"Our investigations indicate that this rise was mainly due to changes to one retailer's business practices," Mr Cox said.

"We will continue to monitor disconnections to ensure that retailers meet their obligations.

"Disconnection should be a last resort for retailers when customers are unable to pay their bills.

"We investigate potential breaches of the National Energy Rules and businesses that do not comply could face infringement notices, court enforceable undertakings, or even court action."

NSW ENERGY BILLS 2013-14

  • 108,000 households (3.6%) had an electricity bill debt; Average debt was $529
  • 51,000 homes (4.3%) had a gas bill debt; Average debt was $395
  • 63,000 electricity customers (2%) used payment plans to repay debt; 18,000 (0.6%) received assistance under retailer hardship programs to repay debt
  • 11,000 gas customers (1%) were on payment plans; 4000 (0.3%) received assistance under hardship programs

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