Ballarat residents ask: to eat or heat?

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OUTPACED: Power costs are outstripping growth to wages and government benefits and forcing people to forego basics, Centacare chief executive Tony Fitzgeraldn says. Picture: Kate Healy.

OUTPACED: Power costs are outstripping growth to wages and government benefits and forcing people to forego basics, Centacare chief executive Tony Fitzgeraldn says. Picture: Kate Healy.

A surge in power prices is forcing people to forego necessities so they can keep the heat on, Centacare chief executive Tony Fitzgerald says.

Victorians are bracing for a cost hike come January 1 when the state will fall in line with other states and territories, some which have already seen prices jump by up to 19 per cent. The increase is on top of stagnate wage growth and a steady rise in electricity and gas prices over the last 10 years. 

The Victorian Council of Social Service told an inquiry into Australia’s electricity system on Thursday that prices soared 119 per cent from 2006 to 2016.

They’ve got to keep the power on to keep themselves warm or they don’t use heating at all.

Centacare chief executive Tony Fitzgerald

Mr Fitzgerald said the price of power had shot far ahead of growth in wages and government benefits.

“There’s a clearly a societal issue around the increases in utility prices outstripping just about every other service. Utilities are taking an ever-increasing share of what is already a very limited budget so something has to give,” he said.

Ditchy's view.

Ditchy's view.

“They’ve got to keep the power on to keep themselves warm or they don’t use heating at all which in the middle of a Ballarat winter is unacceptable.” 

Ballarat Salvation Army’s emergency relief program Doorways regularly supports people whose high utility costs have tipped them into crisis.

The service would spend several hundred dollars a week split between multiple clients “just to get them over the line” and keep their power on, team leader John Clonan said. 

Bev Hobson, Taylor Kerry and Narelle Kerry at the Salvos coat exchange initiated for the first time this year to keep people warm in winter. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric.

Bev Hobson, Taylor Kerry and Narelle Kerry at the Salvos coat exchange initiated for the first time this year to keep people warm in winter. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric.

Child and Family Services financial counselling co-ordinator Colin Handwreck said the energy price rise was preceded by a legacy of increasing costs of living.  

The organisation’s financial counselors often see utilities bills which have spiraled into many thousands of dollars.

They can then advocate on behalf of their client to utility companies. Sometimes they see people who have lived without power for months on end – but they are the exceptions, Mr Handwreck said. 

“What we typically see is huge bills in our role that people can’t deal with. We also hear of people coming in and saying ‘the gas was disconnected two months ago and I use my electric fry pan because the gas was disconnected’.”

Need help? Salvation Army: 5337 0600 CAFS: 5337 3333