Digital system makes support more efficient

PLEASED: Paul Toole, Lifeline's Alex Ferguson, Barbara Bard and Kylie Holford and Energy and Utilities Minister  Don Harwin. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK
PLEASED: Paul Toole, Lifeline's Alex Ferguson, Barbara Bard and Kylie Holford and Energy and Utilities Minister Don Harwin. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

IT is now easier for vulnerable energy customers in Bathurst to get access to emergency payment support.

Minister for Energy and Utilities, Don Harwin, paid a visit to Bathurst on Monday to speak with Lifeline Central West financial counselors about the changes to the Energy Accounts Payments Assistance scheme.

The NSW Government provides the support service to people in financial crisis to help them pay their electricity and gas bills.

In 2016, there were 400 households that received assistance that totaled more than $90,000. 

Previously a paper voucher system, the scheme has been streamlined and moved to a digital format. 

It has been in operation for two weeks. 

During his visit on Monday, Mr Harwin said digital system would make the process faster and more efficient for everyone involved. 

“Rising power costs are a big problem and people in regional NSW have a unique perspective because in many places it is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter, so there is a particular pressure on people’s bills,” he said.

“The changes that we have made will be of particular benefit to people in regional NSW.

“Having an internet-based processing rather than paper vouchers, it is possible to help people faster and providers are able to work more efficiently and have more time to spend with people in need.” 

Mr Harwin said feedback from providers in Bathurst and Orange, where he also visited on Monday, was very positive. 

Lifeline Central West financial counselor Kylie Holford said there were many people in Bathurst feeling the pressure of rising energy costs. 

These people include those who are unemployed, victims of domestic violence, those suffering from illness, mental health and people who are “underemployed”, a term Lifeline has for those who are casual or part-time employees.

“They fall between the cracks where they aren’t eligible for government support, but still don’t make enough money,” Ms Holford said.  

She said the Energy Accounts Payments Assistance scheme is not new, but the digital version is a “very smart system” to use. 

The scheme is backed by $17 million in NSW Government funding and provides critical support to around 55,000 energy customers in NSW facing a financial crisis each year, with more than half coming from regional and rural areas.

To find a local Energy Accounts Payments Assistance provider, call Service NSW on 13 77 88.