(Australian Associated Press)
Australian consumers have been using more electricity during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added to financial stress for many.
An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission study has found residential use rose significantly during the national lockdowns, which forced most people to stay at home.
In Melbourne, where restrictions have lasted longest, residential electricity use increased by between 10 and 30 per cent in April and May (depending on weather) compared to the same period last year.
Colder weather compounded costs for customers. Weather in Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney was colder than the 10-year average, according to the ACCC, and prompted people to use heaters more.
Yet ACCC chair Rod Sims said data suggested more customers were a month behind in paying electricity bills.
The proportion of people missing payments rose from two per cent in June to five per cent in July, according to a survey from the Consumer Policy Research Centre.
Yet the increase was greater for younger people. The two per cent missing bill payments in June climbed to 10 per cent in July.
Mr Sims was concerned the problem may escalate as more people find themselves out of work. The unemployment rate is expected to rise from 6.8 per cent later this year.
The Australian Energy Regulator has tried to help struggling customers during the pandemic.
It has protected most customers from disconnections and debt collectors until October 31.
The regulator also gave some relief to energy retailers, who may not collect the same level of revenue. It allowed retailers to defer the network charges of struggling retail customers for six months.
People working from home have been able to claim some electricity costs in their tax return.
Overall electricity use dropped by two per cent in the second quarter of 2020 due to low levels of business use.
The ACCC report is based on more than 8.5 million bills from more than 1.5 million customers.