Poverty groups appeal for end of disconnections, debt collection during pandemic

Poverty groups are appealing to essential service providers to halt disconnections and debt collection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus lockdown has a massive financial impact on businesses and workers, with economists predicting as many as 200,000 Kiwis could end up jobless as a result.

Now, social service organisations across Aotearoa are calling on companies providing services such as energy, internet, finance, and rental housing to do more to help the community.

"We're calling on companies providing essential services to step up and help customers who are experiencing hardship," says Consumer NZ acting CEO Karen McDonald.

"This is a time when we all need to support each other and do the right thing for those who have been hardest hit."

The three key requests are:

  1. No disconnections or service cessation. Companies should continue to offer their services without interruption
  2. Waive penalty and late fees, including additional interest charges. No one should pay extra while they are struggling to pay bills on time
  3. Pause debt collection. People should not be pursued by debt collectors during this time

"Child Poverty Action Group has long been concerned that debt repayments have been harsh and pushed many families into despair and poverty," Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)  economics spokesperson Dr Susan St John says.

"We are aware of people paying reparations on overpaid welfare benefits which has caused extreme distress. Suspension or debt forgiveness is urgent, as is giving people the full Working For Families for their children."

"Our whole nation is carrying a burden at the moment. We urge financial services and utilities to go the extra mile to respond to the reality and fear of financial hardship," adds FinCap CEO Tim Barnett.

"Disconnection from essentials such as power haunts too many of our households, especially heading into winter. Lifting that threat in the interests of health and safety, in a spirit of kindness, is the right thing for companies to do."