Paying bills amid rising utility costs has Riverina residents turning to higher powers for help.
It follows an electricity price hike of 20 per cent on average from July 1 this year.
A number of complaints made on social media from across the region put “outrageous” bills in the spolight, with independent and family households struggling to afford to keep their power on.
The state’s Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWON), Janine Young on Wednesday hosted a Bring Your Bills day in Wagga, speaking directly with city residents about issues affecting them.
Ms Young said affordability was a key issue for people in the Murrumbidgee region.
“Affordability issues, payment difficulties, increasing debt and disconnection of supply factored in 25 per cent of complaints we received from the region in the 2016-17 financial year,” Ms Young said. “(That is) compared to 21 per cent for all of NSW.”
More than 25 residents attended Tolland Community Centre to speak with the Ombudsman and her team.
Ms Young said meeting with customers face-to-face made a big difference to everyone involved and often lead to problems being resolved much faster.
One resident was slapped with a $1800 estimated electricity bill for the last quarter.
“We were able to work through that and immediately take $900 off that bill,” Ms Young said. “It was a great example of what my office can do.”
She said the Bring Your Bills day had been a “one-stop shop” to get services together to help city residents.
“Customers can also get help setting up payment plans, having rebates applied to their account if eligible, accessing emergency payment assistance and dealing with outstanding fines and legal issues,” she said.
“As a result, a large bill may become manageable.”
While Ms Young said her office did not influence retailer’s utility prices, she said it was positive the ACCC was carrying out an investigation into retail and energy pricing.
She said it was concerning the most vulnerable residents across the state were refusing to turn their air-conditioners or heaters on to save money, but were still unable to afford the bills.
“It’s something people – like the elderly – need for their health,” Ms Young said. “It’s something that is concerning.”
Ms Young said anyone having trouble paying their bill could call their retail or the EWON office on: 1800 246 545.
A forum for community workers was also held as part of the Ombudsman’s annual Anti-Poverty Week activities.
The forum aimed to raise awareness of energy and water issues and the assistance available for people in hardship.