One more bill
Gale said the change for her came in August, and the past two bills have been about $30 per month.
But she thinks it will be a different story this winter, and she worries about how she’ll pay.
She said being told she now has one more bill to pay was unwelcome news.
“I wasn’t very well pleased because, when I came here, I just thought, ‘Well, this is forever, until I pass,’ but not so,” said Gale.
Gale’s neighbour, Mitt Sheppard, said it’s not only unfair to change the rules for seniors on a fixed income but, he says, electricity usage for some cottage tenants will be higher than for others through no fault of their own.
“If you’re in one two-storey apartment, you’re on the lower floor, the heat is going up and warming the apartment above them. And if they’re in the middle of the building, their electricity is considerably less.”
Mitt Sheppard says it’s unfair for tenants of Western Health‘s seniors‘ cottages to have to pay for their own electricity. He says some cottages are harder to heat than others, so some tenants will end up with higher electricity bills. (Bernice Hillier/CBC) Hard blow to a senior
When he found out about the switch to a separate electricity bill, Sheppard said he contacted Newfoundland Power to average out the cost for him. When all is said and done, even with a reduction in his rent, Sheppard said he’s now paying about $170 more on average per month for rent and electricity than he was a few years ago.
“Three years ago, I bought a used vehicle, and my payments were $150 a month. I was thinking about trading in on another used vehicle. But that $150 a month is more than consumed now in our hydro bill,” said Sheppard.
Gale doesn’t like the idea of having an extra monthly bill on top of her other expenses. (Bernice Hillier/CBC) Save by cutting back on cuts
Meanwhile, Gale has been brainstorming ways to save enough money to pay an extra bill. The only area she’s identified in her budget is foot care and hair cuts.
“It means that I can’t have a girl come in to do my nails. And then again I’ve got to let my hair grow longer. I can’t afford to go and pay 23, 24 dollars a month to get my hair cut. That’s going to be gone,” said Gale.
“Let them pay for our hydro, like we always did,” said Gale.
No going back
Western Health says the change to separate electricity bills for its tenants is permanent, and that there is no connection to anticipated higher electricity costs as a result of power from Muskrat Falls coming online.
Chris Squire, regional director of financial services, said most tenants in affordable housing pay for electricity separate from their rent, so this is an effort to streamline operations and bring the cottages across the Western Health region in line with the norm.
Squire said the change is not a cost-saving measure for Western Health, as tenants‘ rents have been reduced at the same time, and the health authority has committed to no further rent increases until April 2021.
“I’m not sure that any rental agreement is going to maintain rates forever,” he said.
“We certainly understand the difficulty of managing on a fixed income,” he said.
Squire said government subsidies are available that could help mitigate the extra cost to seniors over and above what they’re used to paying. And while Western Health can’t apply for the subsidies on behalf of tenants, he said, by switching over to direct-paying customers, they can apply for the subsidies themselves. Squire said some seniors may actually have lower rent plus electricity costs once the subsidies are factored in.
If any tenant faces financial difficulties as a result of the change in billing, Squire said, they should contact the health authority to discuss it and to ensure that the senior is tapping into all available subsidies.
No choice in the matter
“And we had no other choice.”
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