Big jump in disconnections as we struggle to pay for power

NEW South Wales residents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep the lights on, with a 25% spike in the number of disconnections in the state over the past year.

NSW's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal found the number of residential electricity customers who had had their power disconnected for failing to pay their bills rose from 18,561 in 2010/11 to 23,207 in the past financial year.

In its annual assessment of the state's 12 electricity and eight gas retailers, IPART also found there was a significant jump in the number of complaints received by electricity companies - rising 53%, from 33,377 in 2010/11 to 51,092 in the most recent fiscal period, half of which were billing related.

The number of disconnections represented 0.8% - up from 0.6%- of the state's more than 2.09 million residential electricity customers.

The number of complaints accounted for 1.6% of the state's more than 3.22 million small retail customers.

IPART CEO Jim Cox said it was clear households and small businesses were finding it increasingly difficult to pay their energy bills,

He said it was also evident people were not accessing hardship support that the state's energy retailers were required to offer.

"Despite increasing levels of disconnections, the proportion of residential customers using instalment plans to pay their electricity bills has not increased, suggesting that consumers may not always be aware of the options available to them," Mr Cox said.

"Retailers need to work harder with their customers and actively promote the payment options available before those experiencing hardship are faced with disconnection."

Almost 2% of the state's residential gas customers were disconnected in 2011/12, up 15% to 20,118 for the year.

There was a 31% rise in complaints to gas companies, from 13,287 to 17,336.

NSW had more than 1.129 million gas customers in 2011/12.

Mr Cox said the IPART reports provided information to the State Government about the affordability and accessibility of energy services in NSW, and the effectiveness of rebate schemes and other initiatives to support people unable to pay their energy bills.

They also help consumers considering the different offers being made by retailers.

"Around half of all NSW electricity residential and small business consumers are now on market contracts," Mr Cox said.

"They are more actively shopping around for the best deal and these reports enable them to compare the levels of customer satisfaction achieved by different retailers before they sign up."

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