Cut Off II: The Experience of Utility Disconnections

This is the final report for the project Cut Off II: The Experience of Utility Disconnections, prepared for the Energy and Water Consumers’ Advocacy Program. This project is a repeat of an earlier project carried out for EWCAP in 2005.

The objectives of the research are to contribute to the evidence base in relation to consumers who are disconnected from utilities, the impact of these disconnections and the sources of assistance most effective in supporting reconnection. The earlier 2005 research project made a number of significant findings in relation to the experience of disconnection, which for some people results in major psychological and physical impacts.

This report compares the 2005 results with the current data, noting any significant shifts in responses. It also builds on the earlier research by incorporating an increased focus on the process immediately prior to disconnection with a view to improving customer assistance policies to prevent disconnections. The research suggests that a greater proportion of the ‘working poor’ are being disconnected in NSW. These people typically have less awareness of services that may support them to get reconnected and are not necessarily eligible for the types of support available.

Although the proportion of employed respondents has increased, there remains a very large proportion of respondents who report a number of characteristics often correlating with socio-economic disadvantage. Many of these people are sole parents receiving Centrelink benefits who are struggling to find money for household bills. The level of contact between retailers and consumers before disconnection in some cases is low, which is not consistent with recent legislative changes to improve customer assistance before disconnection. Similarly, the high proportion of people reporting that they cannot afford the payment plans offered to them suggests a greater need to improve the processes that take place before disconnection.

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