A HIGHER number of Ballarat people are struggling to pay electricity bills, leaving them in the dark and powerless.
A new report into this has linked the high levels of disconnections to entrenched poverty.
The worst thing they can do is ignore it (the bill) ... then it only becomes bigger and bigger and that exacerbates the problem.Allen Moloney
A St Vincent de Paul report - Households in the dark - has mapped about 200,000 AGL electricity customers in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and south-east Queensland whose service was disconnected for non-payment between July 2012 and July 2015.
Ballarat was ranked third for the the highest number of disconnections in regional and rural Victoria. The report found 241 customers in Ballarat were disconnected more than twice in a three year period. The regional location with the highest number of disconnections was Corio, followed by Shepparton.
“When several houses in a community are disconnected more than one of a three year period, we are arguably looking at communities with entrenched poverty or ongoing financial hardship,” the report found. President of St Vincent de Paul branch St Patrick’s Conference Allen Moloney said all agencies were increasingly seeing people struggle to pay electricity bills. “The worst thing they can do is it ignore it (the bill),” Dr Moloney said.
“Then it only becomes bigger and bigger and that exacerbates the problem.”
Dr Moloney said families, single people and elderly people were facing lives with inadequate income and soaring costs leading to increased financial hardship.
“A lot of people have to prioritize because their income is inadequate. They have to choose (can they afford) food, clothing or electricity?”
Dr Moloney said people facing hardship should contact their electricity provider and apply for a hardship electricity plan.
St Vincent de Paul Society energy spokesman Gavin Dufty told Fairfax Media Victorian residents were most at risk of being cut offs.
“In Victoria, the roll out of smart meters, which enable disconnections to be done remotely instead of during a site visit, results in an increase in the disconnection completion rate,” he said.