Govt should give non-recoverable grants to families struggling to pay their power bills

The Green Party is calling on the Government to make non-recoverable grants to families struggling with power bills this winter, to help prevent more children becoming sick from cold, damp homes.

This week coroner Brandt Shortland ruled that a cold, damp Housing New Zealand home may have contributed to the death of Otara toddler Emma-Lita Bourne. The family had been given a heater to warm it but could not afford the electricity to turn it on.

"No New Zealand child should be expected to go through the winter living in a cold, damp home, that their parents can't afford to heat," Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said.

"We challenge the Government to immediately adopt the Green Party's plan for a warrant of fitness for all rentals, to ensure no child has to live in the same conditions that Emma-Lita was forced to.

"In the meantime, the Government must instruct Work and Income to be compassionate and flexible when granting payments to families who come to it needing help to pay the power bill this winter.

"Families who can't afford the power to heat their homes should be given grants to pay their power bill that they do not need to repay.

"This is a very easy step the Government can immediately take that will help ensure Kiwi kids are kept safe this winter.

"The small benefit increase for some parents announced in the Budget doesn't begin till next summer. Families like Emma-Lita's need help now, this winter, to help keep their children warm.

"Currently many payments made by the Ministry of Social Development to families struggling to pay their power bills are treated as loans, which families are forced to find a way to pay back.

"Families so broke that they can't afford to heat their homes are put under even more pressure by having to pay a loan from WINZ or an advance on their benefit. That's enough to put people off even asking for help.

“In the year to September  2014, there were about 30,000 payments made to families for help with power bills, but nine out of ten of those payments were loans which families were expected to pay back.

"Until the National Government requires all rental homes to be safe and dry, and until incomes are sufficient to pay for the basics like power, it must provide immediate help for families to ensure kids are warm and safe this winter," Mrs Turei said.