Double demand

Vinnies hands out 38,000 energy vouchers

The local Vinnies said it comes as no surprise the latest Energy Ombudsman report found people in the Far West are the worst off in NSW when it comes to energy prices.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is the state’s largest distributor of the NSW Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers, and have already distributed more than half a million dollars’ worth of vouchers this year compared to last year.

Vinnies Broken Hill regional president, Leo Woodman, said the Broken Hill office has already sent out nearly 38,000 energy vouchers this year, which is well on its way to doubling the number from last year.

“We help households primarily in Broken Hill but also in Wilcannia, Dareton and Coomealla and we’re already well over our allocation,” Mr Woodman said.

“The government provided us with a number of vouchers based on last year’s figures and we’re already way above that,” he said.

“Energy prices are rising along with the cost of living, and if rent’s gone up and food’s gone up people have to choose where they’re going to spend what money they have.”

“On top of energy prices rising the Far West has to pay a tariff for the poles and wires to bring it out so that adds an extra cost too.”

Vinnies’ research found that the average market offer for energy prices increased by 16 to 19 per cent in July this year, hitting lower income families the hardest.

“We’re having more households contacting us for assistance,” Mr Woodman said.

“Not just for energy vouchers but in every field we provide assistance with,” he said.

“At this stage we’re going to have to ask for more vouchers, which shouldn’t be an issue but it will take time.”

“We’re always looking for donations if anyone can assist us.”

The Australian Energy Regulator found that more than 85,000 households in NSW have unpaid electricity bills, and nearly 45,000 are also in debt over unpaid gas bills.

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, Jack de Groot, said the government needs to step in and make sure the price of energy goes down.

He said the state should look into adopting a concession like Victoria has, which sees holders of a Pensioner Concession Card, Department of Veteran Affairs Gold Card, or Health Care Card receive a 17.5 per cent discount off energy usage and supply charges.

“Even the cheapest offer available on the market is unaffordable for many people in the community, what’s the point of choice if you can only choose between outrageously expensive, very expensive and mildly unaffordable,” Mr de Groot said.

“Rising electricity and gas prices are hurting those most vulnerable in our community and we need to make sure that the most vulnerable get an appropriate discount,” he said.

“This is what our members, volunteers and staff are seeing every day across the state as we assist people to pay their bills and buy food.”

Vinnies is able to arrange electronic payment of energy bills directly to power companies through the state government’s EAPA voucher system.

Anyone seeking assistance should go to the Vinnies office on Argent Street between 12.30 and 3.15 every weekday.