Sad truth about electricity prices on the Northern Rivers

Northern Rivers residents are paying $500 more than the state average for electricity and Casino and Tweed are among the highest places for energy disconnections, according to data released by the NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Janine Young said the Northern Rivers had a "significant aspect of disadvantage", noting high unemployment rate of 8%, renting households at 40% above the NSW average of 27-30%, and a 25% higher average electricity bill.

"We know the average electricity account in the Northern Rivers area is around $2500, and that's about $500 higher than the NSW average," the Ombudsman said.

She pointed out that the high number of renting households in the Northern Rivers was a key driver in the higher average electricity bills.

"Those who can least afford it often have the highest energy costs. Poorly insulated homes and appliances that are cheap to buy but expensive to run are often the norm," she said.

Ms Young has urged people overloaded with utility bills to seek help as Lismore City Council was recorded as the region's struggle street for bill complaints.

Lismore recorded 374 complaints per 100,000 people, in the last financial year - 13% ahead of its nearest neighbour Kyogle with 325 complaints per 100,000 people.

Richmond Valley Council was next with 305 complaints, with Ballina next on 261, followed by Byron Shire on 217 per 100,000.

The majority of the complaints sprung from high bills, payment difficulties, and disconnections.

Ombudsman Janine Young noted that while complaints were down almost 20% across the board from last year and were on a downward trend, it followed eight consecutive years of rises.

The good news is there is plenty of support for households struggling with bills.

  • Contact your retailer. Be honest about needing help. They will set you up with hardship programs which give you a structure to repay your outstanding debts.
  • Contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman on free call 1800 246 545. Ombudsman staff can put you in touch with retailers and ensure any disconnections are halted and setup a hardship program.
  • Contact the Far North Coast region financial counselling service on 6622 2171.

Originally published in the Northern Star on 2nd November, 2016
Written by Hamish Broome