WELFARE agencies in Echuca-Moama are reporting more demand for help as energy bills continue to soar.
St Vincent de Paul, which helps people experiencing poverty and inequality, confirmed demand is rising in Echuca in line with the cost of everyday living. A similar story has been reported at the Salvation Army, with the Echuca branch helping up to 30 people a week through its social welfare programs.
It coincides with new research from iSelect showing a staggering nine out of 10 Victorian households worried about upcoming winter energy bills.
Less than one in three respondents to the survey said they were able to pay their energy bills easily.
St Vincent de Paul policy and research manager Gavin Dufty said people were in line to cop bigger bills because consumption was up along with a price hike of nearly 10 per cent at the start of the year. He said residents were going to significant lengths to cope with the rising costs.
‘‘Pensioners use strategies like going to bed early and going down to public places like supermarkets just so someone else is paying the bills other than them,’’ Mr Dufty said.
‘‘If you’ve got children, you’ve got to put food on the table, so the utility bill has to wait.
‘‘Parents are particularly at risk of late fees and disconnection, because you can’t not feed your children.
‘‘School excursions, holidays and little treats might get cancelled.
‘‘So what you’ll see is rising energy prices don’t always reflect in disconnections; they get hidden in other decisions people make.’’
He said August was a particularly stressful time because bills coincided with council and water rates.
iSelect spokesperson Laura Crowden said households in Echuca could be cutting back on daily necessities in order to pay their bills.
‘‘With Echuca homes shivering through a cold winter, it’s concerning more than 1.4 million Victorian households may be using their home’s heating less due to concerns about energy costs,’’ she said.
‘‘And it’s not just heating, our study suggests many households are also cutting back on essentials such as food and clothing to afford their energy bills.’’
The runaway power prices have led to the Victorian Council of Social Services calling for the state government to introduce an independent energy broker.
A broker would find better power deals on people’s behalf.
‘‘As a consumer, you could call the broker and tell them about your household energy needs,’’ the agency said.
‘‘They would then suggest the best deal for you. They wouldn’t be paid on commission or by the power companies, meaning you could trust their advice.
‘‘Private energy brokers already exist for businesses, helping companies pay less for power.
‘‘So if it’s good enough for business then why not the rest of us?’’