The Energy and Water Ombudsman of NSW (EWON), Janine Young, will visit Narrandera this Friday for a free Bring Your Bills day.
Held at the Narrandera TAFE, Ms Young and her staff will be there from 10am to 3pm. Lunch is provided, as well as activities for children. The day will be a chance for everyone who has experienced any kind of financial hardship to come and find advice and solutions.
“Customers can also get help setting up payment plans, having rebates applied to their account if eligible, accessing emergency payment assistance and dealing with outstanding fines and legal issues. As a result, a large bill may become manageable,” Ms Young said.
People should bring along current and past energy and water bills, any letters from their retailer, their Centrelink Health Card if they have one and any concession cards.
“Energy prices on average went up by 20 per cent since the 1 of July,” Ms Young said. “Even before the price increases, there was a lot of bill shock. My view is that we can never really address poverty until energy rates are affordable.”
Ms Young said that the recent spike in energy prices had affected not just those who were already vulnerable, such as pensioners, single parents, and others living close to the poverty line; it has also affected “people who are getting by and the a price increase has made it more unaffordable”.
“I take my job seriously, and I try to get out and visit the whole state, and not just focus on Sydney. Every year we hold two Anti-Poverty forums, one in the metropolitan areas and one in a regional area.”
According to Ms Young, affordability issues, payment difficulties, increasing debt and disconnection of supply were the causes for 25 per cent of complaints the office of EWON received from the Murrumbidgee region in the 2016/2017 financial year, compared to 21 per cent for all of NSW.
“I told my office that I want to be in Wagga so we can go out and about in that area,” Ms Young said. “For the past three weeks we’ve been planning a Bring Your Bills day. It’s about bringing EWON to people who might not necessarily access EWON by themselves.
“The way we do that is by partnering with local institutions, because they know who the most vulnerable people are. It’s the local financial counsellors, and the Salvos and Vinnies, so that we can make sure that those who need help are getting help.”
Ms Young comes to Bring Your Bills day ready with a team of representatives from organisations such as Revenue NSW, Legal Aid Work Development Orders, NSW Fair Trading, NSW Environment & Heritage, Aboriginal Legal Service, Financial Counsellors, Anti-Discrimination Board, Energy Account Payment Assistance (EAPA) providers and more.
“So the idea is to remove the barriers to people so that they can talk to my staff and get the help they need. It’s for everyone. People who are suffering from financial hardship – sometimes it’s the hardest thing, getting help, because there’s a lot of dignity and self-reliance lost when you can’t pay the bills.”
According to Ms Young, often matters are resolved more quickly when customers can deal with people face-to-face.
EWON has been in the Murrumbidgee region all week. The Anti-Poverty Forum was held in Wagga on Tuesday, followed by a Bring Your Bills day in Tolland on Wednesday. A Bring Your Bills Day is also on in Griffith today (Thursday November 16).