For the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), UMR Strategic Research undertook research into NSW residential disconnections from electricity, gas and water for non-payment. The purpose of the research was to explore:
- The longer-term reasons that lead to disconnection and payment difficulties more broadly.
- Compare the experiences of those who are disconnected with those who came close to it, but avoided it, exploring the positive and negative actions people take to avoid disconnection.
- Which supports are most effective at helping people avoid disconnection and debt long term.
- What the experiences are of people who are disconnected or come close to it.
- What are the most effective strategies to reduce disconnection, debt and making bills more affordable long term.
- This research provides clear evidence that the drivers of disconnection, and payment difficulty more broadly, are diverse.
The quantitative research shows that people who have been disconnected in the last 12 months are relatively likely to come from demographic groups frequently associated with economic disadvantage, supporting the theory that finances and affordability are a major factor in disconnection. It also indicates that unless the longer-term factors that lead to financial problems are addressed, then these households will continue to be vulnerable to being disconnected.
Although prices are a key contributing factor, the research indicates that they are frequently the ‘final straw’, as opposed to the sole cause, and that efforts to reduce disconnections in the future are only likely to be truly effective if they also allow for, and ideally address, the longer-term factors that make households vulnerable when a larger than expected bill comes in.