Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Few apply for extra help with big water bills

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Auckland households received $149,000 of hardship relief on water bills in the first year of a trust set up by Watercare Services.

Since March last year, 156 people have completed an application process which involves household budget advisers and trust members reviewing personal finances.

However, Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said the figure showed that few people knew help was available.

"People are really struggling and it's not just to pay very high water bills.

"In South Auckland, a large percentage of our families have four-plus children so showers and baths and doing the washing costs an awful lot and they use a lot of water to keep their garden alive."

Auckland Council member Cathy Casey said her worry was that only 156 had applied.

"I just wonder how many people in debt actually know about the trust?"

Dr Casey suggested trust information should be available in different languages.

The Water Utility Consumer Assistance Trust was set up ahead of radical changes on July 1 last year to the way Aucklanders pay for water, including monthly bills and volumetric charging for wastewater.

The trust is bankrolled by Watercare but is independent.

In approving repayment plans, the trust decided 55 customers should get a total of $35,000 debt written off their accounts.

Budget advisers helped applicants complete the paperwork and prepare a plan to improve finances and debt.

Trust members look at applicants' bank accounts.

A Watercare spokesman said there were few applications in the first three months as the trust worked to get word out that help was available. For the rest of the year, it approved an average of 15 applications at each monthly meeting.

Applicants had generally paid Watercare bills in the past but were now struggling due to external influences on their family, including illness or change in job status.

The company has 420,000 customers.

- NZ Herald

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