Incredibly more than two million households are spending ten per cent of their total income just to pay for electricity, and that figure is expected to rise with price hikes that came in on June 1.
The human face of power stress is full of people sent broke by power bills, bills they will now never pay off.
Ian and Carol Morris spend their nights in a small room, covered in blankets, warmed by a small wood heater fueled by off-cuts of dumped fencing.More stories from Today Tonight
“I have a heater but I would rather sit out here in the dark with a blanket wrapped around me to save on electricity," Carol said.
Andrew suffers kidney disease, but he and wife Jodie can't afford treatment as they are already six months behind in their electricity payments.
“I go to bed at five o'clock in the afternoon and just wrap myself in blankets, whether I have a cold or not. I just go to bed. Why not? Why stay up," Andrew asked.
All up they owe close to $1500.
Andrew and Jodie are already two bills behind, with another due in about a week.
However there is hope of a relief for people like this, with the announcements of the biggest national discounts ever offered in electricity - discounts the companies don't want you to know.
Lachlan Harris from One Big Switch has secured massive discounts from power companies for tens of thousands of customers using group discounting.
“There is a price war going on. It's a hidden price war in the power industry at the moment," Harris said.
Before the new price rises kick in, the companies are not advertising their cuts.
In Queensland One Big Switch has negotiated twelve per cent off. In New South Wales it’s twelve per cent, plus $100 off your first bill.
Victorian companies are cutting seventeen per cent off power bills, with fifteen per cent being offered in South Australia.
There's no switching for households in Tasmania, Western Australia, or the Northern Territory at the moment.
“The power companies are competing with each other under the cover of darkness because most of your viewers are still paying the full price. Forget about a seven per cent or eight per cent discount - most of your viewers are still paying full price," Harris said.
Harris has come up with some additional power saving ideas.
- Turn the second fridge off - $140 a year in savings.
- Wash in cold water for a year - which will cut power bills by $115.
- Turn off the Xbox when you're not using it - $150.
- Use a clothes line rather than a dryer - $63.
- Drop the thermostat on your heating in winter - usage will be cut by ten per cent, cutting power bills at the same time.
“Most people basically overheat or overcool their house during summer or winter, so definitely take the edge off your bill by turning down the thermostat," Harris said.
Carol and Ian have crunched the numbers and they are so far behind, their repayment plan of $72 a fortnight means they will never catch up.
Andrew and Jodie are repaying $50 a fortnight to their power company, with no chance of ever getting ahead.
The New South Wales Energy Ombudsman has seen an explosion in people who simply can't pay their power bills, and she's called for an urgent national summit before it's too late.
“If people are already falling behind now, then it's not going to get any better. It will just get worse and they'll further and further behind," she said.
The June 1 price hikes will hit hard in the next three months – with thousands more complaining they can't cope.
As Utility stress bites hard, the carbon tax is just one month away.
“Decrease the increase. You can't stop the increases, no one can. What we've got to do is decrease the increase so reduce usage, get the biggest discount possible, and that's how you can hope to take some of the pain out, but the reality is there's a whole lot more pain coming," Harris concluded.Contact details
- One Big Switch - www.onebigswitch.com.au
This reporter is on Twitter at @RichoTT7
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