More than a third of regional electricity customers are struggling to pay power bills, according to a report which shows a big increase in the number of people asking for more time.
The Economic Regulation Authority yesterday released the latest snapshot of the performance of WA's energy retailers, showing the pain caused by successive tariff rises continues to bite.
Almost 40 per cent of regional energy provider Horizon Power's customers were granted payment extension plans in 2012, the report found, up from about 26 per cent the previous year.
In Perth and the South West, where household and small business electricity consumers are serviced by Synergy, about 10 per cent of customers asked for more time to pay in 2012, down slightly on 2011.
"Since electricity tariffs started to increase in 2009, both Horizon Power and Synergy have reported increases in the percentage of residential and non-residential customers being granted more time to pay, compared to the years immediately preceding the tariff increases," the report said. "This implies more of these retailers' customers are struggling to pay their electricity bills as the tariffs have increased over time, particularly customers in regional areas supplied by Horizon Power."
The report also shows that while the number of households and businesses whose power was cut because they didn't pay their bills fell marginally in 2012, it remained notably higher than recent years.
Overall 8050 Synergy and Horizon customers had their power connections severed - similar to 2011 when 8295 were disconnected but significantly more than 2010 when 3348 were.
The latest figures from WA's economic watchdog show the extent to which power price increases amounting to almost 70 per cent in the past four years have affected households.
They also encompass the effects of skyrocketing gas prices, with privately-owned utility Alinta reporting it had disconnected more than 20,000 properties over the past two years for non-payment of bills.
"While the recent falls in Alinta Energy's residential disconnections is welcomed by the Authority, the gap between the residential electricity and gas disconnection rates suggest that Alinta Energy needs to do more to keep customers connected," the ERA noted.