200,000 households trapped below energy poverty line

The poor shiver in winter, swelter in summer and keep lights off in a bid to lower energy bills

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 2:25pm


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The city's poor do not come home to light at night, heat in winter or cool air in summer. Their priority is being able to afford the electricity bill.

Yip, 54, is one of them, surviving on the HK$4,420 social security assistance provided by the government.

He swelters through the summer months as he hardly dares use the air-conditioner. But he still finds it difficult to pay his electricity bill.

"I must still reduce the use of any appliances to keep costs low and save money for food and rent," said Yip, who has heart disease and lives with his 19-year-old daughter in a two-room shack in Tuen Mun that used to be part of a pig farm.

Yip has to spend about HK$400 a month on LPG for cooking and showering and another HK$100 for electricity, which takes up about 10 per cent of his monthly income.

Campaign group World Green Organisation said Yip was only one of many Hongkongers living "under the energy poverty line" - an international standard defined as when a household spends over 10 per cent of total monthly income on energy.

"This is a rather new concept, but in foreign countries there are policies helping the people in need," said William Yu Yuen-ping, chief executive officer of World Green Organisation.

Yu said basic electricity expenses were roughly HK$400 for a two-person family in Hong Kong.

Based on data from the Census and Statistics Department's 2011 census, the group estimated that over 210,000 households were living under the energy poverty line, on a monthly income of less than HK$4,000.

Yu said many of the affected were living in subdivided flats or cubicles and were charged higher electricity tariffs by their landlords, while rebates offered by power firms never reached them as the centralised power meter was registered under their landlords. "It is obvious that the landlords have no incentive to pass the rebates on to the tenants. There is a serious policy gap."

He suggested power firms tackle the problem by installing separate meters for tenants.