Some elderly Tauranga people are struggling through winter's cold conditions using a Government payment for helping to pay heating costs to cover bare necessities instead.
One social agency says others are spending the financial boost on gambling and alcohol, and raised concerns about people becoming used to an increased budget when the Winter Energy Payment ends.
The Winter Energy Payment is an extra payment to help with the cost of heating homes over the winter months. All superannuitant recipients qualify.
The scheme runs from May 1 to October 1 and has been doubled, meaning eligible couples and people with dependent children are expected to receive $63.64 a week and single people $40.91 a week.
In the March quarter, 27,964 people received superannuation in Tauranga, according to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).
This translates to $847.66 for someone who lives alone or with a dependent child, $782.44 for those who live with someone who is not a dependent child, and $652.04 for each person in a couple.
But it was not enough for some.
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Shirley McCombe said many people did not have any means of heating available to them so looked to other ways to stay warm.
"We have clients who are too scared to use heating due to the cost."
McCombe said the funds were used to pay their expenses.
She predicted a "large number of people" struggling to cope when the income they had become reliant on, disappeared.
She said it helped people living on a low income "but it is not necessarily spent on power".
"Many of our clients live week-to-week and struggle to make ends meet. This money provides a boost but it is up to the individual to prioritise how they spend it."
Tauranga Grey Power president Jennifer Custins was worried about when the payment stopped as people became used to the increased budget.
"I absolutely am sure that people are using it for food and other necessities; if their car needs repairing or they've got dental or medical bills that they suddenly need to have.
"Quite frankly, going to bed early with an electric blanket is obviously not going to be an enormous hardship for an older person on a very cold night."
She said the people "settle and forget it's actually temporary" which was something she saw many people struggle with last year.
"This year, goodness only knows what it's going to be like."
She said couples receiving the payment into one account had been problematic.
There had been cases where, often the husband, would spend the extra money on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling.
"Then the wife's been told, 'don't turn the heater on, we haven't got any money'."
St Vincent de Paul Western Bay of Plenty area manager Lorna Edlin said they had run out of blankets twice and people would be spending the payment boost on necessities other than warmth.
"It'll be going to food that they haven't been able to get."
She said they delivered parcels to the RSA and found the elderly still could not afford to put the heating on.
"Even with more money for power, they still won't turn it on."
She said two years ago, a large portion of the charity's money was spent helping people pay for power and rent.
She noticed more people had moved to Powershop - a power company - and bills had become more manageable.
But Tauranga's Kieran Jensen said she thought the payment was "too much".
She lived in at the RSA Village and said her unit was easy to heat which did not cost a lot.
She would only put the heat pump on when she was cold.
This winter, she said she would be saving money as a result of the payment.
"When you get to our age, there's not a hell of a lot you really need."
Tauranga Salvation Army community ministries manager Davina Plummer said the funding made a "huge" difference to seniors and the elderly.
"It is appreciated and they feel they can, and therefore do, use it to keep warm."
Plummer said the payment had been particularly helpful for those who rented or those with higher energy bills.
The Ministry of Social Development Minister said the doubling of the payment this year was designed to boost incomes through the first phase of the Covid-19 recovery, as "an important economic stimulus".
"The reality is that people's expenses go up over winter largely because of heating costs and the Winter Energy Payment is an acknowledgment of this. It helps meet those expenses for older New Zealanders and people on a main benefit."
Those who are struggling to make payments are urged to contact the Ministry of Social Development to work through options for support.