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Electricity costs soar

Saturday, 1st March, 2014

Broken Hill resident Desiree Naskof with her two-month-old daughter Dakoda Ferguson and $1000-plus electricity bill. PICTURE: Nick Gibbs Broken Hill resident Desiree Naskof with her two-month-old daughter Dakoda Ferguson and $1000-plus electricity bill. PICTURE: Nick Gibbs

By Nick Gibbs

Electricity costs are putting a great strain on household finances with some residents paying as much on power bills as they are in rent, according to Lifeline’s Financial Counsellor Sherrie Wilkins.

“Electricity bills are a huge issue in Broken Hill,” Ms Wilkins said.

“Fortnightly payments for electricity are equal to what some people are paying in rent.”

Ms Wilkins said that people renting homes were particularly susceptible to power costs.

“Many are at the mercy of their landlord,” she said. “They go and buy the cheapest heater they can, which usually chews up the most electricity.”

Ms Wilkins also predicted that the very hot summer would cause bigger bills because most people had to run their air conditioners constantly.

Desiree Naskof was shocked when she recently got an electricity bill of almost $1700 after moving house.

“This was our first full quarter bill and we almost died,” Ms Naskof said.

“In our last house the bill was only about $400.”

She said she was careful with how she used power in the new home which has solar panels, but it didn’t seem to be resulting in lower charges.  

“The house is quite easy to keep cool and warm up. It’s not as if we’re running an air-conditioner all day.

“I don’t see how they can justify charging so much.”

Ms Naskof, who lives with her fiance and her two-month-old daughter Dakoda, said budgeting for electricity costs had forced the family to change their lives.

“I’ll have to go back to work three months earlier,” she said, explaining that she was on unpaid maternity leave.

In addition to utility costs, Ms Wilkins said under-employment was a major problem locally.

This differs from unemployment as it defines casual workers who maintain jobs but only work few hours.

“People are feeling the strain and seeking help, as they should,” Ms Wilkins said.

“I would strongly suggest fortnightly payments as a method to prevent bill shock.

“If you do find yourself in trouble, the first step is to get on the front foot and ring the company you owe money to.”

Utility companies, electricity providers and finance companies usually have a hardship department to deal with such matters, Ms Wilkins explained.

Increasing public awareness was also a vital part of the role of a financial counsellor.

Contract fine print, especially in the case of mobile phones that typically last for two years, can result in big problems.

“A lot of people come unstuck,” Ms Wilkins said. “Remember, a conversation on the phone can be a contract.”

For those who feel in need of support, Lifeline’s specialised counsellors and referral system makes a good starting point.

“What we don’t provide, we know who to refer people to,” Ms Wilkins said.

The organisation works closely with community groups who can provide everything from groceries to legal support.

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