ACT News

Canberrans have a harder time paying their energy bills than residents in other states

Gas bill debts in the capital have risen above the national average as households struggle to pay their gas and electricity bills in the last financial year.

Australian Energy Regulator statistics show about 7000 residents had gas bill debts with their retailer.

The regulator also reported 5000 Canberra homes had trouble paying their energy bills, about 3.1 per cent of customers.

The figure is a jump on the 4000 households from  the previous year.

The average electricity bill debt was $825, up from $800, while the average for gas bill debt remained about $551.

AER board member, Jim Cox said compared to the national average, the number of ACT customers that have incurred a gas bill debt had been comparatively high.

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Kippax Uniting Care assists those in the ACT who struggle with housing and financial issues and other social problems.

Emergency Relief co-ordinator Stuart Anderson said there has been growth in demand to assistance and attributed this to Canberra's cold winter.

"There definitively was a huge leap in 2013 in demand for assistance and we have seen a growth this year … The largest gas bill we've seen this year has been $3500, which has accumulated over time," Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson highlighted three types of groups who have had problems with paying their bills.

"Usually families with young children, lower income households and those living in inefficient public housing are those who suffer the most," Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson also said that the lack of education about methods of paying bills had led to some households being disconnected.

"Many times people, mostly singles, don't know the payment options the companies like ActewAGL offer. We usually refer them to the ActewAGL's Staying Connected Program."

Frank Brassil, president of St Vincent de Paul Society ACT and Goulburn echoed this concern.

"Vulnerable people often don't have the life skills to cope, that's where we come in – we end up supporting the family in other ways such as providing access to food, clothing and helping with transport," Mr Brassil said.

The AER recommended those facing hardships to look for the best option when choosing an energy provider.

"There can be big difference between the most expensive and least expensive energy offer, even in the same area, so it is definitely worth looking to see if there is a better energy offer available," Mr Cox said.

 
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