The ranks of WA's most needy have continued to swell, according to the number of people struggling to pay utilities bills.

In a sign of the pressure battlers are under to meet rising costs of living, payments through the Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme rose 10 per cent last year.

The Department for Child Protection, which administers the scheme, said 24,931 grants were made during the year to June 30, compared with 22,778 in the previous corresponding period.

In financial terms, the value of the grants increased 15 per cent, from $8 million to $9.26 million.

There was a bigger jump in payments to customers of State-owned electricity providers Synergy and Horizon Power.

The department says 16,455 grants were issued to Synergy customers in 2013-14, compared with 14,208 the previous year.

Those given to customers of regional provider Horizon shot up 28 per cent to 1910.

There was a small increase in the number of HUGS payments to Water Corporation customers - rising from 933 to 1057 during the year - though conversely there was a fall in grants to customers of gas retailer Alinta.

The increases in cries for help come on top of an explosion in the number of HUGS payments since the scheme began in August 2008.

Between the program's first full year in 2009-10 and June 30, the number of grants it issued rocketed more than 800 per cent from 6701.

Over the same period, electricity prices have risen 86 per cent and water tariffs have gone up only marginally less.

Under decisions made as part of this year's State Budget, electricity and water tariffs rose 4.5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively from July 1.

Emma White, the department's acting director-general, noted the figures related to the number of grants issued, rather than the number of individual recipients.

"The HUGS database reports by grant application and does not have the capacity to report on individuals or households," Ms White said.

The West Australian

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