Getting assistance with energy bills in Orange this winter

St Vincent De Paul Society NSW is one of the largest providers of energy assistance in NSW, distributing vouchers through the NSW Government’s Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme.

During the 2015-16 financial year across NSW more than 55,000 vulnerable customers used the EAPA scheme to pay their energy bills, worth close to $12 million. In Orange, between 2015-16, the Society distributed 457 vouchers, this increased during the 2016-17 financial year to 474.

On top of handing out vouchers, the Society gave out $90,811 worth of assistance in 2015-16 to people living in Orange, which also increased to $100,979 between 2016-17.

On 1 July the scheme converted to a digital platform. According to Lukas Rajnoch, Acting Executive Officer, Bathurst Central Council, the Society has been working in partnership with the Department of Energy to make the transition as smooth as possible. .

“Our Conference members, who work on a voluntary basis, have put a great deal of effort into preparing for the transition to a digital platform as they want to assist people in our local communities as best they can. The new digital platform represents a change for our Society’s volunteers as well as for people seeking assistance. We therefore ask for peoples’ patience and understanding as the new digital platform comes into effect,” Mr Rajnoch said.

We welcome comments and feedback so that we can let the Department of Energy know what experience people are having with the new system in our community. Anyone requesting a voucher can visit our St Vincent de Paul Society Conference at McNamara Street and we will do our best to assist them.

High energy usage affects the poorest families hardest. Since 2008, electricity prices have doubled and, according to the ABS[1], low income households spend around three times that of high income households: on average almost 10 per cent of their weekly income goes to energy costs.

The ABS found that nearly one in five low income households could not pay their energy bills on time, while 13 per cent had their electricity or gas services disconnected during 2011-12. With high income households, only five per cent were unable to pay their bills on time and two percent had their services disconnected.

“The situation is only set to get worse now as wholesale electricity price rises are set to increase bills by as much as 20 percent,” said Mr Rajnoch.

“We are anticipating a dramatic increase in the number of requests for help this winter as more people struggle to pay their utility bills. The sad reality is that low income earners have the highest energy costs because their homes are poorly insulated, and their heaters are the cheapest to buy but are electricity guzzlers.

“Many of the people we assist have to choose between a meal or a warm home. The EAPA vouchers make a huge difference but it isn’t enough.

“The costs that make up many of the essentials of life are rising faster than the CPI,  in particular, the cost of housing, health and utilities[1]. The anticipated energy price surge will hit the hip pockets of low and middle income earners really badly.”

The average electricity debt has already risen from $529 in June 2014 to $631 in June 2015, according to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

The Society relies heavily on donations from the public especially in winter, which is why we ask the public to donate generously to our Winter Appeal. To donate, visit vinnies.org.au or call 13 18 12.

[1] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4670.0main+features100032012

edia contact:  Phyllis Sakinofsky | phyllis.sakinofsky@vinnies.org.au | 0417 446 430