ACT charities see surge in requests by Canberrans for energy bill help

ACT charities see surge in requests by Canberrans for energy bill help

Canberra charities are seeing a surge of people requesting assistance with their power bill and expect the situation to worsen in coming weeks.

The St Vincent de Paul Society said the past week had been one of their busiest for requests for financial help, as people begin to receive their bills for the autumn quarter.

More people are requesting assistance to help pay their energy bills.

More people are requesting assistance to help pay their energy bills.

Megan Andrews, the co-ordinator of the charity's home efficiency program, said she expected the surge to continue into the months ahead.

"It's been a real spike this week. People are getting their autumn bills now, and we probably received more than 20 inquiries in a single morning from people," she said.


"It's been a cold winter, and when the actual winter bills come in three months time, you've got a lot of people concerned about how to sustain themselves."

While the charity doesn't provide direct financial assistance , Ms Andrews said it helped people to reduce their energy use through draught-proofing measures and providing energy-efficient heaters and fridges.

The program has been running since October 2015, and since then, 1200 people in the Canberra region had used the service.

Ms Andrews said while energy provider ActewAGL had been giving out $100 discounts to customers who are "willing to have a conversation about electricity", the number of vouchers allocated to St Vincent de Paul was about to run out.

"We've got about 100 of the vouchers, which will run out in about three weeks," she said.

"With the winter bills coming up, lots of people are calling up and panicking, saying that we need help."

ACT Salvation Army regional manager Ivette Micalos said more people were using hardship assistance on electricity bills.

"There has been an increase. People are increasingly using payments for essential items such as electricity, and that chips away at their grocery amount," she said.

Between April and June this year, 124 Actew customers signed up for the Staying Connected program, which provides financial hardship support.

The figure is slightly higher than the number of customers being supported since 2012.

Actew general manager of retail Ayesha Razzaq said the company had supported between 80 and 120 customers through the program per quarter over the past five years.

"The number of customers who entered the Staying Connected program during April to June 2017 is less than 0.1 per cent of ActewAGL's retail customers," she said.

The most recent price report released by the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission showed that electricity prices will rise during the 2017-18 financial year between an estimated $194 to $471, depending on energy consumption.

Energy prices in the ACT remain the lowest out of any other jurisdiction in Australia.

A $250,000 energy support fund was set up by Actew in July to help with energy bills during winter, with the figure also being matched by the ACT government.

"Our main message to the community is if you're struggling to make ends meet, don't go without energy," Ms Razzaq said.

"Please contact us as there are things we can do to help."

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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