February 17, 2017
Electricity is an essential energy source that plays a critical role in growth and development of Fiji. It is one of the greatest technological innovations of mankind. Electricity has become an integral part of our homes & businesses. One cannot imagine life without power.
Without electricity our comfort and services we expect in our homes would not exist. We would not have used our appliances, conducted online banking, or communicated with our loved ones living abroad.
Our dependence on electricity is growing and we often take it for granted. The only time we really take notice is when electricity is not available. It makes us realise the importance of power in almost everything we do.
The Fijian Government in its efforts to provide assistance to low-income consumers have been subsidising their electricity. This has provided some relief to those struggling to make ends meet.
From 1 January, 2016 the 85kWh per month was increased to 95kWh/units per month. Before all domestic customers who used 85kWh/units per month or less were automatically qualified for the Government subsidy. This rule has changed to allow low income earners to benefit rather than to incentivise consumers who practiced energy conservation.
Now FEA requires registration of families whose combined household income is $30,000 or less per annum. If a family is earning below the threshold amount, and they do not register, then FEA will not automatically give subsidy. The other catch is if a family earns below the threshold amount but consumes more than 95kWh of electricity per month then they will not qualify under this scheme. However, the key requirement is for consumers to register their electricity account with evidence to show the total household income and to keep the electricity consumption below 95kWh.
There are consumers who have been raising their concern that despite their electricity bill showing 95kWh the subsidy is not passed on.
FEA applies this subsidy based on the average daily usage while the registered consumers understand that if the electricity bill they receive every month shows 95kWh, then they qualify forthe subsidy. Unfortunately, FEA interpretation of a month is different. For FEA, a month is 30.42 days (1 month = 365 / 12 = 30.42 days) and not number of days in a calendar month.
It is also to be noted that the billing period can be for 28 to 34 days, therefore FEA uses average daily usage to calculate subsidy.
If a registered consumers’ average daily usage is 3.12kWh or less then subsidy is applied where the tariff rate is 17.20 cents. Those consumers whose average daily usage is more than 3.12kWh (i.e. 3.13kWh or more) even though registered with FEA will not qualify for the subsidy. In that case consumers are expected to pay the normal tariff rate of 33.10 cents.
A Case Study below shows how a consumer was entitled to the subsidy but her application was not processed by FEA in a timely manner:
Amy made an application to Fiji Electricity Authority for Government Subsidy on her average electricity consumption. However, the Authority delayed in responding to her application by nearly 4 months. As a result, Amy was not given the subsidy and was required to pay the normal tariff rate despite her eligibility for the subsidy. She was dissatisfied with the poor service of FEA and sought the Council’s assistance.
Upon Council’s intervention, the Authority responded that it was an error on their part and advised that a correct bill would be sent to the complainant the following month. Eventually, the complainant’s account was adjusted by FEA and she was provided with Government subsidy.
Consumers are reminded that in order to qualify for government subsidy they need to closely monitor their electricity consumption. Consumers are also encouraged to always check their bill to make sure that their consumption is reflected correctly. Read your electricity meter whenever possible to ensure that the meter reading shown on the bill is approximately around the same digits. And any tampering of the meter is a criminal offence.
Consumers have the responsibility to be vigilant and deal with dissatisfaction/unfair treatment given to them by any trader/service provider, be it from privately owned business or a Government service provider.
Aggrieved consumers can call the National Consumer Helpline toll-free number 155 to lodge any complaints against traders and service providers.