Timaru woman with MS says ECan's woodburner rules unfair

Ability Plus owner Cath Bakkum said she felt she was being penalised for continuing to work despite her illness, ...
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Ability Plus owner Cath Bakkum said she felt she was being penalised for continuing to work despite her illness, prompting her to write to Environment Minister Nick Smith.

A Timaru resident with multiple sclerosis who helps people with disabilities find work has branded ECan's woodburner rules discriminatory, after discovering she could not receive a subsidy. 

Ability Plus owner Cath Bakkum said she felt she was being penalised for continuing to work despite her illness, prompting her to write to Environment Minister Nick Smith. 

Although she had extra costs because of her condition, Bakkum said she did not meet the income threshold to receive a $5000 subsidy from the regional council to purchase a new woodburner or heat pump. 

Timaru residents have been told they need to replace their woodburners if they are 15 years old or older - and the deadline for applying for building consent for new woodburners is October 31. 

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Bakkum said she had not contacted ECan about the issue as she felt there was no point.

"I can't afford to buy a new fire and I'm not eligible for those subsidies." 

The effects of a cold environment on MS sufferers were serious and could include circulatory problems and fatigue. 

"It's important to keep warm." 

Bakkum said she wrote to Smith about her situation, saying she had never "cost the Government a cent". 

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"[I] am fiercely independent. I live by myself, and have done so for many years," her letter read. 

"I figure that I have saved the country a bob or two and [am] almost discriminated against or punished because I chose and am able to work." 

Smith is travelling to Timaru on September 19 to address a public meeting on air quality, where he is expected to answer residents' questions about the controversial rule.

A spokeswoman from his office said he would not be discussing any of Bakkum's concerns until the meeting.  ​

An ECan spokeswoman on Tuesday urged Bakkum to get in touch. 

"We would need to know the individual's full circumstances in order to make a call about subsidy eligibility.

"We would strongly encourage her to contact us before 31 October 2017 because there are fewer options open to her after this date."

Bakkum said she would be interested in discussing it with ECan, as she was "desperate" to meet the conditions. 

She was a member of the South Canterbury Regional Air Plan Liaison Committee, which is attempting to get the woodburner rule ditched. 

At the very least Bakkum said she would like to see the criteria for subsidies broadened. 

"I do feel discriminated against because I work. If I didn't work I would be able to get everything, but I can't." 

The price of electricity had "skyrocketed" which was detrimental to both the elderly and people with disabilities, she said. 

"There's a lot of people in this pot." 

A Timaru CCS Disability Action representative declined to comment on the situation, saying she did not know enough about Bakkum's circumstances. 

Environment Canterbury director of air quality Katherine Trought said on Tuesday a large number of subsidies were still available.

Since January, 161 people have received home heating subsidies.

 - The Timaru Herald

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