2 Aug 2020

New fund aims to alleviate household energy hardship

1:49 pm on 2 August 2020

The government has announced funding to support households struggling to pay their energy bills.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

The $17 million pot, announced by the energy and resources minister, will establish an energy hardship group and electricity consumer advocacy council.

Megan Woods said the groups will help improve energy efficiency and reduce hardship in New Zealand's households and give small electricity consumers a voice.

She said pilot programmes will be developed to assist people struggling with energy payments, including a network of organisations providing electricity-specific advice and support services for those in need.

The money will be used to:

  • establish a cross-sector energy hardship group to provide advice and co-ordination for initiatives across government, industry and the NGO sector to alleviate energy hardship
  • progressively develop a network of community-level services to assist households in energy hardship
  • create a fund for pilot programmes to improve energy efficiency for households in energy hardship
  • support development of an accepted definition and indicators of energy hardship so that programmes can be better targeted and their effectiveness measured
  • form an electricity consumer advocacy council to advocate for small electricity consumers.

"This funding allows us to bring together leaders from community organisations, consumer advocates, industry participants and government agencies to ensure energy hardship initiatives are carefully coordinated to maximise their effectiveness," Woods said.

She said the impact of Covid-19 is likely to increase the number of people struggling with household budgets and this could help reduce energy costs.

"This is an important piece of the puzzle and it sits alongside the other initiatives that we as a government have committed to, we do have a desire for there to be warmer, drier homes for New Zealanders to live in, this is an important way in which we can get the consumer voice."

But Consumer New Zealand says the government's plan does not go far enough.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said the electricity industry is a Frankenstein structure.

"The whole sector is a real mess, as a result consumers are paying far too much for electricity ... so if the actual price of electricity was lower, some of these hardship issues wouldn't crop up in the first place."

Duffy said it is only a small step and more work needs to be done.

It is expected the energy hardship group and electricity consumer advocacy council will be up and running later this year.