On Friday afternoon my office was contacted by a Plunket nurse in my electorate who had visited a young mum with a 4 month old baby for a regular check. She discovered a very distressed young woman who was grappling with the fact that her electricity had been disconnected. Her and her partner (who was at work) had a $600 debt which they were trying to clear but couldn’t get on top of.
The Plunket nurse was horrified as the baby was bottle fed. Electricity was essential in the house for heating. She rang the electricity company and was fobbed off. She then rang my office. I sighed, because it is not the first time this has happened. I rang the Chief Executive’s office and within a few hours the problem was rectified and the electricity was reconnected.
I will not name the company here because I was impressed with how quickly the matter was dealt with and because this is not the only energy company where I have had to “go to the top” to sort it out.
There are clear guidelines for medically dependent and vulnerable customers set out by the Electricity Authority following the highly controversial and tragic case of Folole Muliaga, who in 2007 died less than three hours after the electricity supply from state-owned Mercury Energy was disconnected to her house due to an outstanding balance.
These guidelines set out an “enhanced process around disconnections for non-payment, including a range of requirements that retailers should meet before a disconnection can take place”.
I am writing to the company in question to ask them whether they followed these guidelines before they disconnected this young woman’s power. And I will write to the Electricity Authority to point out that I believe they need to pay closer attention to the number of disconnections occurring.
The power bill is a major monthly cost for every household. Prices continue to accelerate upwards. This is a young family trying to make a go of it. They face cost of living increases which are out of their control.
Instead of selling off these energy companies the National Government should be stepping in to ensure that young families don’t get put in these positions. Electricity costs are too high. Electricity companies make huge profits. There’s something sick in our country if we can’t see that and do something about it.
A Labour Government will do something about it. We will bring down the price of electricity by hundreds of dollars a year. It’s got to be done.