Synergy to cut off bill evaders
Power cut: Synergy will cut off bill evaders. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

State-owned electricity provider Synergy is cracking down on customers who repeatedly fail to settle their bills, saying it cannot tolerate people "simply refusing to pay".

A day after the State Budget revealed an increase in funding assistance for households struggling to afford their bills, Synergy confirmed it was taking a tougher approach to its debt collection.

It is understood customers of the utility who regularly fail to settle their bills on time have been receiving letters since April threatening disconnection unless they pay.

A Synergy spokesman said the push was not aimed at customers who missed occasional deadlines, stressing that assistance was available to those who needed it.

Instead, he said it was targeting "extreme" cases where people had a history of not paying bills or asking for help despite warnings.

"Synergy's new collections strategy assists us to identify customers with a genuine need for assistance so we can help them with payment strategies before the outstanding amounts become unmanageable," he said.

News of the crackdown comes amid a surge in the number of people pleading for help to pay their electricity bills, which have rocketed almost 75 per cent under the Barnett Government.

Power prices are due to increase 4.5 per cent from July, and Treasury forecasts they will lift a further 7 per cent a year between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Since 2008-09, the number of households receiving help from the Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme to pay their electricity bills has jumped from 2508 to 14,208 in 2012-13.

In the 10 months to April 30, the number of HUGS payments to Synergy customers stood at 12,677 and was on track to eclipse last year's total.

Ahead of further increases expected in the number of households having difficulty paying bills, the Government included an extra $7.8 million for the HUGS program in the Budget.

The provision means $11.9 million will be set aside as HUGS funding in 2014-15.

The scheme pays up to 85 per cent of a customer's utility bill if they are unable to afford it, while it also allows people to access financial counselling.

The West Australian

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