Utility bill battlers hit record high

Illustration: Toby Wilkinson/The West Australian

The number of families asking for help to pay their electricity bills is on track to be the highest on record this year after rocketing more than 500 per cent under the Barnett Government.

Ahead of inflation-busting increases to electricity tariffs expected in today's State Budget and a similar rise for water, figures have highlighted how thousands of households are struggling to keep up.

Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme payments made to customers of State-owned electricity provider Synergy stood at 12,677 for the 10 months between July and April 30.

HUGS payments to Synergy customers totalled 14,208 for the 2012-13 financial year, up from 2508 recipients in 2008-09, the first year of the Barnett administration.

Similarly, Water Corporation figures show there have been big increases in households asking for more time to pay their bills.

For the 10 months to April 30, the Water Corporation said 61,213 customers had been put on to a total of 120,196 payment plans, indicating some households were asking for help repeatedly.

In comparison, 64,732 customers were granted payment plans in 2012-13 and 32,755 subscribed to the measure in 2007-08.

In line with the increased stress among its customers, the corporation said the interest owed to it on overdue accounts had swelled to $4.3 million this financial year, compared with $3.8 million last year and $1.9 million six years ago.

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Irina Cattalini said more people were seeking help to pay their utility bills because tariffs were rising faster than incomes - a situation that would be exacerbated by today's Budget.

She said the Government needed to ensure assistance was better targeted, and should start by removing the cross-subsidy Perth and South West households paid to offset the cost of electricity in remote areas.

Regional power bills should instead be subsidised out of consolidated revenue, Ms Cattalini said.

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