Bill pay confusion cause for concern

THE Latrobe Valley arm of the Salvation Army believes a lack of understanding of bill payment options has lead to a high rate of home power disconnections.

New data showing the highest incidence of disconnections in Victoria compared to other states had not surprised support workers.

State Premier Daniel Andrews said his government would ensure the Essential Services Commission would examine whether electricity and gas providers were being fair on customers, as more than 30,000 disconnections had taken place in the past year.

“Obviously you’ve got to pay your bills but we want people to be treated fairly,” Mr Andrews said.

“If you are experiencing financial hardship cutting you off should be the last step, and that’s happening a bit too early at the moment.”

Salvation Army Latrobe Valley Community Support Service coordinator Paul Gray said elderly people were prone to misunderstanding payment methods and found it hard to communicate with power companies.

Mr Gray said overseas companies also contributed to the problem.

“With the companies we’ve got these days it’s a mine field; you try and set up payment plans and you might get companies in India and they don’t understand Centrepay or parenting payments,” he said.

“It’s also very hard for older people with the technology today, they might have a prepaid mobile and they have to wait a half an hour to get through to somebody and they run out of credit.”

Mr Gray also said various companies often changed business names and account numbers and while people may be notified through letters, they were often not read.

“We had one old lady that ended getting a $3000 bill because she’d been paying her old account and they were going to cut her power off because they hadn’t been collecting it,” he said.

Adding pressure to the growing demand for Salvation Army’s community support services, the Salvos assistant divisional social programs secretary for Eastern Victoria Major Eddie Holman said a 20 per cent decrease in Federal Government funding from 1 March would see the organisation scaling back.

“For us, we will be doing our best to maintain the status quo in terms of our delivery of services but we’ll be trying to do that with less money,” Mr Holman said.

Salvation Army’s Latrobe Valley Community Support Service is moving its headquarters from Chickerell Street, Morwell to 4 Hoyle Street, Morwell.

The office is currently closed and will reopen on Monday, 2 March.