Families turning off the heat

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2013
power stand
Winter Blues -- Debbie and Mark Laurent warm themselves and 4 kids with hot water bottles and blankets because they struggle to pay the high winter power bills

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Unable to pay their electricity bill, some Taranaki families are going without power for days while they organise high interest loans to pay for reconnection.

In the previous 12 months Taranaki power bills have increased by an average of $100, well ahead of the $65 national average.

Hundreds of people couldn't afford electricity last year, Julie Gaudin, of Hawera's Budget Advice Service, said and the increasing cost over the last year was only making it worse.

"As long as their power is still on we are more likely to be able to help them. But once it's off the power companies are demanding payment in full and they have no choices.

"We've had families with children who have been without power for a week and if they couldn't get help from Work and Income they have had to go and get loans," Ms Gaudin said.

The high interest loans then crippled the family financially, forcing them to foodbanks while they repaid the money, she said.

Ms Gaudin said even the Government was powerless to do anything if they power companies decided they wanted to cut someone off.

Ari Sargent, CEO of online electricity company Powershop, wants that to change. Energy poverty was becoming a real issue in New Zealand, he said, and there needed to be a government-driven solution to support families who couldn't make ends meet.

"Electricity isn't a nice to have, it's essential. It's time we looked at an energy concession scheme, similar to the policies administered by several Australian states," Mr Sargent said.

"They are targeted to ensure the most vulnerable households get the help they need.

"No Kiwi family should be forced to choose between heating their house, filling up the car or feeding their kids."

He said the increases were being driven, in large part, by lines company charges.

Work and Income can provide one-off payments to people who are in financial hardship to pay for essential costs including food, power, clothing and furniture.

In 2010 approximately 12 per cent of the people who received benefits sought a hardship payment on one or two occasions, 6.8 per cent on three to five occasions and 3.8 per cent six times or more.

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