180,000+ Aussies in energy debt as average amount owed rises

The number of Aussies repaying some form of energy debt in the second quarter of 2021-22 has risen by more than 13,000 compared to the same period last year.

Latest data from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) revealed that more than 180,000 households owed an average of $1,056 to their power company in Q2 2021-22, a yearly increase of about six per cent.

Alarmingly, the same period saw roughly 55,000 residential electricity and gas customers referred to an external credit collection agency for debt recovery.

The AER research also found the average amount of debt in 2020-21 for customers in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT rose to $1,000, up from $897 and $802 in 2019-20 and 2018-19, respectively.

John Ballenger, General Manager Retail at Tango Energy, said that recent wholesale market conditions has placed upward pressure on retail power costs, and urges customers to seek support if they’re doing it tough.

“With the current unstable market and fluctuating wholesale energy prices, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for energy retailers to maintain their prices,” he said.

“We have always been committed to helping our customers during difficult times, including the support through our hardship policy. This program provides our customers with a dedicated Customer Assistance team member, trained to tailor a plan that suits their individual needs and circumstances.

“At Tango, we’re proud of our strong focus on value and ensuring we not only maintain low prices for our customers, but are continually looking for new, innovative ways of supporting them at a time when the cost of living is continuing to surge.”

It comes after wholesale electricity prices skyrocketed over the past 12 months, with experts warning consumers to brace for bill shock.

Other findings from the AER uncovered 125,830 residential electricity customers missed pay on time discounts, while more than 110,000 Aussies were on a payment plan. The second quarter of 2021-22 also revealed that around two million energy consumers received some form of power or gas concession.

There were better signs for the number of household disconnections, dropping from 7,327 in Q4 2020-21 to 3,977 in Q2 2021-22, majority of which were reconnected within seven days.

What can customers do about rising energy costs?

Finding a suitable plan that locks in rates may give bill-payers some degree of comfort, said Tango Energy’s Mr Ballenger, a type of product that’s currently offered by the retailer.

“Being aware of what is affecting our customers is what enables us to offer them energy plans that suit their needs. That includes offering our lowest gas rates locked in for a minimum of 12 months as we head into winter, a time where gas bills often equal bill shock.”

Mr Ballenger added: “Having no late payment fees or penalties have always been a given to us, as well as continuing to look into the latest technologies in making paying a bill easier. That is what led us to promoting HelpPay, where customers can turn their bills into a secure link and payment page, so that anyone can get help anytime with their energy bills.

“Australians are shifting further away from the larger, more expensive energy retailers and are finding the value in the agile, customer focused brands, who can provide energy to residential households at a much lower cost.

What are your options if you’re struggling to pay energy bills?

Seeking help from your energy provider may seem a little unsettling, but it is your right as a consumer to ask for help when bills become unmanageable, Canstar Blue’s Energy Editor, Jared Mullane explained.

“Rather than burying your head in the sand, it’s best to pick up the phone and talk to your power company about your options,” he said. “By doing so, your energy provider is legally obligated to help you, and large penalties apply to companies that fail to do so.

“Speak to your provider as soon as possible and make sure you clearly explain your situation, and that you are seeking help. Take note of who you spoke to, including the date and time. Lastly, remain calm and be polite, as energy retailers are trained to handle these situations, and in most instances, may be able to provide a solution.”

Image credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

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