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Pandemic leaves us struggling to pay our power bills, report says

Business

Thousands of Australian households and small businesses have struggled to pay their power bills during the COVID-19 crisis, a new report shows.

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The Australian Energy Regulator’s annual retail markets report, published on Tuesday, reveals a $10 million jump in small business energy debt in the first three months of the pandemic.

After coronavirus hit in late March, that figure has blown out from $35 million to $45 million in June.

Long-term residential electricity debt also grew 21 per cent to $124.5 million from late March to early November.

Almost 60,000 households opted to defer paying their energy bills under retailers’ hardship offers.

At the end of June, a total of 171,464 customers were in debt at an average of $908.

“This report really underscores the struggle it has been for many customers to get on top of their energy bills during the pandemic,” AER Chair Clare Savage said in a statement on Tuesday.

“If you are struggling to pay your bills talk to your retailer about your debt – even if you can’t afford to pay anything right now.

“You won’t be disconnected, and your retailer will work with you to set up a plan and help you start paying off your debt.”

There were a few shining lights for consumers, however, with the AER’s default market offer to cap prices in southeast Queensland, NSW and South Australia – lowering prices for some customers by up to 10 per cent over the course of the financial year.

Consumer complaints to energy retailers and the ombudsmen also plummeted by 29 and 26 per cent respectively.

Savage said households and businesses should gauge the market to further lower their energy bills.

“With the combination of falling prices, smaller retailers providing competitive offers, and new retailers entering the market it’s a good time for customers to shop around,” she said.

MEDIAN ANNUAL RESIDENTIAL ELECTRICITY AND GAS BILLS BY STATES AND TERRORITIES

* Queensland: $1627-1946 electricity, $615-$680 gas

* NSW: $1625-$2045, $875

* ACT: $1793, $1555

* SA: $1924, $930

* Tasmania: $2,458, n/a

Source: The Australian Energy Regulator.

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