Families switch off as power bills go up and up

BATTLING Ipswich families are at the centre of a crisis as skyrocketing power bills push budgets to breaking point.

Pensioners and families relying on welfare are being swept up by the latest wave of price rises, which will add another $72 to the average power bill.

More than 500 households across the state have had their electricity cut off each week for not paying power bills.

The average household can expect a price increase of 5.1% or $72 in their latest power bills under regulated electricity prices set by the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) which came into effect in July

The cost of the Solar Bonus Scheme will also double in 2014-15, adding another $54 to the typical residential bill.

Charities such as Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul's and the Salvation Army were struggling to cope with an increasing demand for emergency relief welfare assistance.

Goodna Anglican Church Reverend Vince Conway said the church's welfare ministry had been offering to help between 120 and 130 people a year to pay their power bills and offered food parcels to many more families.

"We assist people when their power is about to be cut off. We do offer emergency relief for households struggling to pay their bills and also give food and clothing to people in need. The most common overdue bill is the power bill," he said.

"We're only open for four hours and we have 25 to 30 people coming in each week looking for assistance.

"It's very difficult for a family whose only source of income is a Job Search Allowance. They're going to be doing it pretty tough. The payments are quite low compared to what costs they have for rent and food for a family."

QCA figures show 26,000 homes were disconnected across the state for non-payment in the last financial year.

QCA chairman Malcolm Roberts said the statistics were a matter of concern to the Authority, particularly with the number of pensioners involved.

Mr Roberts said about one fifth of households that have been disconnected over the last quarter were pension or concession card holders.

When the QCA announced the price rises in May, Mr Roberts cited wholesale energy costs, the Solar Bonus Scheme and network charges as the main factors pushing up prices.

"We know that higher prices cause hardship for many customers. Nevertheless, if industry costs are rising, prices must follow to ensure reliable electricity supply," Mr Roberts said.

Member for Bundamba Jo-Ann Miller said the problem had reached crisis point in Ipswich.

"What we've found is that not only are residents complaining but the community organisations that assist with them are really concerned with the increase in power bills," Mrs Miller said.

"Increasingly we are finding more and more people's power being turned off so that means they can't run a fridge, in a lot of instances they have no hot water and they are sitting in the dark at night."