WINZ intimidating beneficiaries – poverty group
Wednesday 26 Mar 2014 5:39 a.m.
Fewer people are asking for help with their power bills because they're being intimidated by Work and Income, a beneficiary support group says.
The number of people having their power cut off has quadrupled since 2008 but over the same period there's been a drop in hardship grants to help them pay their bills.
Energy Minister Simon Bridges has confessed he's puzzled by that, but Action Against Poverty says he shouldn't be.
"A deepening culture of intimidation at Work and Income explains why more people are going without power," said spokesman Alastair Russell.
"The minister obviously lacks an understanding of the extent to which access to entitlements for emergency needs is being impeded by the routine harassment and intimidation beneficiaries face."
Figures show disconnections have soared from 10,775 in 2008 to 41,000 last year.
Over the same period, hardship grants have dropped by nearly 7000.
The Greens say a mandatory code of compliance must be imposed on power companies.
A voluntary code for dealing with medically dependent and vulnerable people has been operating since 2008, when Folole Muliaga died after the power was cut off to her Auckland home.
Energy spokesman Gareth Hughes says the voluntary code isn't working.
"In 2012, eight electricity companies were found to be in breach of the guidelines," he said on Tuesday.
"Of the 13 companies assessed, only three fully complied."
Mr Hughes says if the Greens are part of the next government they'll introduce a mandatory code, and enforce it.
"Average power prices have risen by $360 a year under this government and energy poverty is a very real issue in this country."
Mrs Muliaga, a 44-year-old Samoan teacher, depended on an oxygen machine and died within two hours of the power disconnection.
Family members said they had asked Mercury Energy to give them a chance to pay their bill but were ignored.
The power company said it hadn't known about Mrs Muliaga's condition.