Chilling utility bills after the 'damn cold' winter are a call to change the definition of 'at risk'

Chilling utility bills after the ‘damn cold’ winter are a call to change the definition of ‘at risk’

Like millions of people in Australia’s eastern states, Bill Grimes has been chilled by a relatively cold winter this year.

Often, he said, the only thing standing between him and misery was electric heating.

“This year… was bloody cold,” said Mr. Grimes.

“Everyone complained about how cold it was.”

The 54-year-old disability pensioner says his story is an ordinary one where he lives in Newcastle, north of Sydney.

He said reliance on his electric heater was sending up his utility bills and eating away at his budget of about $500 a week.

With warnings that electricity prices could rise another 35 percent over the next year, he’s worried about what’s in store.

“I’m doing fine but wondering what my situation will be like 12 months from now or whenever electricity prices spike,” he said.

“When these prices go up like that, it just gets really uncomfortable… when you kind of have to think, ‘What do I have to sacrifice to pay my electric bill?’

“Because the last thing you want is to get the fuck cut off.”

More and more Australian households are struggling with rising electricity prices.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Cries for help often too late

The plight of vulnerable consumers like Mr Grimes is at the forefront of a new report from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

In the report, the regulator notes that energy consumer debt is rising, as are the number of customers in distress.

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