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23 April 2020

Power costs a big worry for one in three Kiwis, Consumer NZ finds

Higher power use under lockdown set to worsen the financial impact of Covid-19.

Household power costs are a major concern for a third of Kiwis, Consumer NZ’s latest electricity survey shows.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said households already struggling with costs were now facing higher bills as power use jumped with the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Our survey found 63% of consumers were concerned about what they paid. For 32%, power costs were a significant concern,” Mr Duffy said.

Results also showed one in six consumers had experienced financial difficulty paying their monthly power bills in the past year.

Mr Duffy said the number of households finding it hard to pay was likely to increase as the financial impacts of the Covid-19 crisis started to bite.

“As the colder months approach, domestic power use will rise. Consumers who are already doing it tough are going to be the hardest hit by winter bills,” he said.

Consumer NZ is calling on the big five power companies to set up hardship funds to support customers having difficulty paying.

“We’ve also asked these companies to drop late-payment fees. Charging these fees just isn’t the right thing to do at this time,” Mr Duffy said.

While the major companies have stated they won’t charge these fees to customers affected by Covid-19, only Meridian had removed “prompt-payment discounts” entirely.

Mr Duffy said these discounts unfairly penalised customers who can’t pay their bills early.

In bills sent out this month, Trustpower was continuing to apply its 15% “prompt-payment discount”. Mr Duffy said this discount was effectively a 15% late-payment penalty for customers who couldn’t pay by the due date.

Last year, Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods wrote to power companies requesting they remove prompt-payment discounts and ensure all customers received the discounted rate.

“These discounts are a late-payment fee in disguise and have a significant impact on households who can least afford it. There’s no justification for continuing to charge them,” said Mr Duffy.

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