Disconnections add pressure on rural households

The report said electricity disconnection numbers were on the rise despite the fact they should only occur as a last resort (Bigstock)

New analysis of electricity disconnections data over three years showed a number of rural and regional areas were struggling to keep the lights on, a St Vincent de Paul Society report revealed. Source: ABC News.

The St Vincent de Paul Society commissioned researchers to map electricity disconnections across four states — NSW, Victoria, South Australia and south-east Queensland — from July 2015 to July 2018.

Researchers said rather than just the cost of power bills, a range of factors contributed to people’s inability to keep their accounts in credit.

Lower wages — particularly in regional Australia — an aging population, insufficient welfare payments, the drought and a lack of jobs were contributing to bill stress.

The report found disconnections were happening despite industry intervention programs designed to help at-risk people get by.

“Regional and rural areas tend to have higher electricity costs simply because the poles and wires part of the bill is higher than the metro areas,” Gavin Dufty, from St Vincent de Paul Society, said.

“On top of that, they tend to be older communities, they tend to have lower incomes and they also tend to have lower employment opportunities.

“So you have income pressures, higher cost pressures … something’s got to give, and in these cases, it’s electricity getting disconnected.”

St Vincent de Paul used the disconnections data to look at the range of factors that contribute to someone’s inability to pay their bill. They built a profile for several at-risk suburbs to help inform policy change — to help make sure vulnerable people are not slipping through the cracks.

Among the report’s recommendations is the rollout of energy-saving schemes such as solar to rural areas and an increase in Newstart payments. The report said disconnection numbers were on the rise despite the fact they should only occur as a last resort.

Australian Energy Council’s chief executive officer Sarah McNamara said the report was an opportunity for the industry to look at how it was communicating with people in regional and rural areas.

“We will need to ask ourselves whether we’re speaking to those communities in the most effective way because that does seem to be the developing area of financial stress when it comes to paying energy bills,” she said.

FULL STORY

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