Thirteen Dunedin Contact Energy customers on pre-paid
power are medically dependent on the supply, and their power
could disconnect if not topped up, the power company says.
Medically dependent customers were "strongly advised" not to
choose pre-pay, because of their need for a continuous power
supply, Contact strategic communications and partnerships
general manager Nick Robinson said.
Contact had 365 pre-pay customers in Dunedin. It does not
supply other parts of Otago with pre-paid power.
If customers raised an alert, company staff exercised
discretion, and power to those who were medically dependent
would not be disconnected.
They also exercised discretion for other pre-pay clients,
depending on the circumstances.
If medically dependent customers did not raise the alarm, the
power would go off, because "that's the nature of how pre-pay
works", Mr Robinson said.
However, the company went to "great lengths" to ensureit had
up-to-date information regarding its medically dependent
customers, he said.
A University of Otago survey of pre-pay power users in 2010,
which included Dunedin and Invercargill consumers, showed 53%
experienced "self-disconnection" (running out of money) in
the previous year. Followed up last year, 45% of respondents
reported self-disconnection in the previous year.
Survey supervisor Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman, of
Wellington's department of public health, said medically
dependent power consumers brought into "stark focus the moral
issues facing the companies and the Government".
Highlighted in The New Zealand Herald yesterday, the
survey had not looked specifically at the issue of medically
dependent power consumers.
New Zealand's lack of electricity industry regulation meant
those with a medical condition were vulnerable on pre-pay
power, Prof Howden-Chapman said.
They were potentially the "tip of the iceberg", in terms of
vulnerable power users, which included the elderly.
Dunedin Hospital respiratory consultant specialist Prof Robin
Taylor said while it was inadvisable for medically dependent
customers to choose pre-paid power, it was ultimately a
It was vital the power companies warned people of the risks,
Anglican Family Care Centre director Nicola Taylor said those
on pre-pay power "know where they stand", and could budget
The centre administers Dunedin's Consumer Electricity Fund,
which this financial year had allocated about $20,000 of its
She did not know how much of that, if any, was used to assist
those on pre-paid power.
Methodist Mission chief executive Laura Black, of Dunedin,
said the real issue was that many people did not have enough
money to pay escalating power bills, regardless of payment