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Hundreds of thousands struggling to pay for electricity – report

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An energy hardship expert says there are likely to be hundreds of thousands more people struggling to afford electricity than what is estimated by the government.

A report from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), on energy hardship measures for the year ending June 2022, found 6 percent of households could not afford to keep their home adequately warm.

Dr Kimberley O’Sullivan, a senior research fellow in the Department of Public Health at Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo ki Pōneke, said that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Analysis using that same data set showed at least 18 percent of households, about 360,000 across the country, were unable to pay for the electricity they needed.

O’Sullivan said the size of the problem had not decreased in recent years, given the cost of living pressures.

MBIE defines energy hardship as the situation when individuals, households and whānau are not able to obtain and afford adequate energy services to support their wellbeing in their home or kāinga.

In January, Consumer NZ reported an estimated 40,000 households had their power disconnected in the past year because they could not pay their power bill.

O’Sullivan said there were many more people who received a notice and borrowed money to pay a bill or make a payment arrangement with their energy retailer.

“There are a lot of people who are in quite significant hardship before they are actually disconnected.”

People responded to energy hardship in different ways; some people would run up an electricity debt to keep themselves warm, while others would drastically limit their use, she said.

“Other people will sit there with basically nothing but the lights on, they will be freezing at home, they will be limiting their use of hot water and living in a really miserable situation, but they might not ever get a disconnection notice, because they are trying to manage this problem in really different ways.”

Renters were at higher risk of experiencing energy hardship because they often lived in poorer quality houses which were difficult to heat.

“New Zealand still had remarkably low building quality standards, what the Building Code specifies, even for new builds, is homes that are still going to need heating now and into the future so that’s part of our problem, we have built ourselves into this.

“Then we have the cost of electricity as well and the fact we mostly rely on electric heating.”

Common Grace Aotearoa has started a petition calling on the Electricity Authority to ban disconnection and reconnection fees.

Co-director Kate Day said the fees disproportionately affected the poorest customers.

“We think a fee that hits people when they have already shown they are not able to pay for electricity is inherently unreasonable and should be banned.”

Day said there were voluntary guidelines stating that fees should be reasonable, but there was no definition of what that meant. The current charges varied between companies, some did not impose a fee, while others charged up to $300 for disconnecting and reconnecting power.

The campaign, which is supported by 16 organisations including the Salvation Army, Child Poverty Action Group and Consumer NZ, also wants to ensure retailers’ prepay prices are no more expensive than their cheapest plan.

Day said it wanted power companies to do the right thing for customers in hardship, and not to impose disconnection or reconnection fees.

VIA RNZ

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NZ First Minister Casey Costello orders 50% cut to excise tax on heated tobacco products

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Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has cut the excise tax on Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs), as she aims to make them more attractive as an alternative to smoking.

Costello, who is also Customs Minister, has cut the excise rate on HTPs by 50 percent effective from 1 July – a move silently dropped on the Customs website.

Costello refused to be interviewed by RNZ but a spokesman said she had made the move to reduce the cost of the products to encourage smokers to switch to safer alternatives.

But Janet Hoek, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, told RNZ that the move seemed weighted in favour of the tobacco industry.

“Certainly that is something that tobacco companies would have been keen to see happen,” Hoek said. “This is not advice that is coming from the Ministry (of Health). It certainly seems to be advice that is suiting tobacco industry interests.”

Tobacco giant Philip Morris owns a leading brand in the HTP market, the IQOS, where sticks of tobacco are inserted into a device and heated, rather than burned.

Philip Morris has lobbied for a cut to the excise tax on HTPs, telling the Tax Working Group in 2018 that the government should “establish a tax rate for heated tobacco products significantly below the tax rate” for tobacco.

In a statement to RNZ Costello said that vaping had been a successful quit-smoking tool and she wanted to see whether HTPs would also be a useful cessation device.

“Vaping does not work for everyone and some attempting to quit have tried several times. HTPs have a similar risk profile to vapes and they are currently legally available, so we are testing what impact halving excise on those products makes.”

HEETS are tobacco sticks or refills that are heated in an electronic device, rather than burned like a traditional cigarette.

There is no evidence that Heated Tobacco Products help people to quit smoking, the Ministry of Health says. Photo: 123RF

Documents released by the Ministry of Health show Costello also asked for advice on liberalising the regulation of HTPs but it was opposed to the idea.

“There is no evidence to support their use as a quit smoking tool,” ministry officials told her. “We do not recommend liberalising the way HTPs are promoted. This would likely compound existing concerns about youth uptake and addiction to nicotine products.

rnz

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26-year-old charged after man found dead in car outside vape store

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Police in Auckland have arrested a man in relation to the homicide investigation launched in Mount Wellington at the weekend.

Officers were called to Penrose Road in Mount Wellington about 10.40pm on Saturday after reports of a gun being fired outside a business.

On arrival they found a man dead in a car.

Police have named the man as 22-year-old Texas Jack Doctor.

They say a 26-year-old man has been arrested, charged with accessory after the fact to murder.

He is expected to appear in Auckland District Court Wednesday.

VIA RNZ

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Police pay deal: Commissioner’s advice to cut super payments ‘foolish’

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Police officers are accusing the police commissioner of “robbing our future”, after a leaked email suggested staff reduce their superannuation contribution to save cash after a disappointing pay offer.

The email to police staff from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster suggested officers forgo their contribution to the police superannuation scheme to compensate for the government’s final pay offer not keeping up with the cost of living.

An officer with nearly 20 years’ experience says cops were feeling “unappreciated and despondent”.

The Police Association and the government have been arguing over pay rates for more than a year.

Independent arbitrator Vicki Campbell was appointed in April to decide which of each party’s final offers would be adopted after no agreement was reached in negotiations.

On Monday, she found in favour of the government’s latest offer, which included a $1500 lump sum payment, a flat $5000 pay increase for officers, plus another 4 percent increase in July and the same in 2025.

There would also be a 5.25 percent increase in allowances backdated to last November.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officer said backdating the allowances to November instead of July – when the previous pay agreement had expired – was one of the biggest bones of contention among officers.

“It’s always months down the track after after the contract expires before we get a resolution. We’ve been sold short and have we just set a dangerous precedent that we won’t get our back pay from when our contract actually ends?” they said.

Another officer, who RNZ agreed not to name, said members of the Police Association had welcomed the arrival of the new government’s Minister of Police – former officer Mark Mitchell – but he was not “walking the walk”.

“I was optimistic given what Mark Mitchell was saying that it would be a better environment for police. He’s good at talking it up but he’s not supporting the staff who are supposed to deliver on his big promises. He’s just talked shit,” the officer said.

Mitchell has defended the deal saying it was the best the government could do. He told Checkpoint on Tuesday officers would be paid overtime for the first time ever.

The officer RNZ spoke to said his family was struggling and he had hoped negotiations would bring some significant relief.

“We live from pay day to pay day. What they’ve done doesn’t give us anything like inflation or most interest rates costs.

“I don’t understand how that’s okay when you have a review for this date, the police stall negotiations, and then somehow move the date back,” he said.

In a leaked email sent to police staff following the decision Coster said the delays to negotiations were compounded by the timing of the election and the change of government.

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