Power bills maul family budgets

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014

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Power bills more than double the expected amount have left some Timaru residents' budgets in tatters, but power provider Contact Energy has an explanation.

Temuka student and part-time worker Mike Nolan said his usual monthly bill for this time of the year was about $200, so a $622.14 bill floored him.

He assumed that it was a "wildly inaccurate estimate" but when he rang Contact, the company confirmed it was an actual reading.

Not only was the bill an unpleasant surprise but Nolan was concerned he risked losing his prompt payment discount of 22 per cent this month.

Nolan said he was looking at changing providers because most of the companies offered good deals to new customers but did little in his opinion to retain existing ones.

With three adults and two children in his household, the main source of warmth was a heat pump.

Facebook users have their own stories of high electricity bills. Kim Weir wrote that last month her bill was $118 and this month $400. Kelz Davison had an even bigger difference, from $346 in June to $820 in July.

Contact spokeswoman Rachel Benton said the reason Nolan's bill was extraordinary was because he had just moved to the property and the amount was based on what previous tenants had regularly used.

Contact integrated a new billing system in April and identified a few teething issues which had caused some billing delays for other consumers, leading to bigger bills for the time in between, Benton said.

"We want to reassure customers that they will be given extra time for prompt payment discount if this has occurred."

She advised consumers who thought their bills were incorrect to phone Contact.

Budget advisers spoken to said power bills had always been an issue for their clients as the cost was always going up.

Elderly people on fixed incomes particularly suffered, Grey Power Timaru president Denise Fitzgerald said.

Late last year Grey Power and Pulse Energy joined forces to create Grey Power Electricity, offering members price protection for five years on their energy rates.

A new Grey Power member in her early 50s said she joined specifically to get the electricity benefits and she was saving about $100 a month.

Senior Citizens Association office co-ordinator Robyn Baldwin said she had not heard of any members having problems with their power bills recently but many of them had joined Pulse.

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- The Timaru Herald

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