High numbers of Bendigo residents seek charity as electricity prices climb

WELFARE agencies in Bendigo say rising power bills are increasingly driving people to charity, as more people are being cut off by their gas and electricity providers.

The rate of gas disconnections in Victoria jumped by 50 per cent last financial year, while electricity disconnections rose 33 per cent, according to a report by the state’s energy regulator, the Essential Services Commission.

Kangaroo Flat Uniting Care outreach manager Max Blume said the number of people asking for assistance over power-bill concerns was growing.

“It’s getting worse,” he said. “Over the past six months there’s been a lot more people asking about their power bills.” 

Bendigo St Vincent de Paul assistance centre president Keith Browell said by the time most people came to their service, they were on the brink of being cut off by their provider.

“All we can really do is a Band-Aid solution,” he said. “Usually when they see us, they’re at the cut-off point. The next thing they know, power companies are threatening to cut their power off.”

The Victorian Council of Social Service chief Penny Wilson said power companies were treating customers with financial difficulties too harshly.

She said the government needed to regulate energy retailers. “More people are being disconnected from their essential energy supply than at any time since the industry was privatised,” she said. “The state government needs to step in to pull the industry into line.”

Mr Blume said it was clear more consideration was needed for families being squeezed by the rising cost of living. 

The issue of gas and electricity prices was not going away any time soon and would only cause more hardship in the future, he said. “I don’t like the look of next year.”

In the last financial year, 24,000 Victorian households had their energy disconnected due to non-payment, which equates to one in every 100 energy customers.

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