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The Salvation Army “Survey on Electricity Usage of N-noers”
N-noers’ Electricity Fee Overcharged
Independent Meters & Electricity Subsidies Needed
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In summer, the high temperature of the sub-divided units is almost unbearable for “N-noers”, who need to turn on air-conditioners and unavoidably increase the use of electricity. Therefore, The Salvation Army interviewed 244 “N-noers” (table 1) in June 2015 to understand their practice in using electrical appliances and their methods of paying the electricity fee. It shows that due to the lack of independent meters, “N-noers” are forced to pay an abnormally high electricity fee to the property owners. Worse still, they cannot benefit from the government’s electricity subsidy scheme. As their expenditure increases, they suffer a hard life. The Salvation Army suggests the government and power companies install independent meters in the sub-divided units, where “N-noers” are living in, and provide direct subsidy or allowance for them.
 
According to our findings, 42.8% of “N-noers” income is spent on electricity fee and rent. 83.6% families have a higher electricity fee than the “affordable rate of electricity fee” (*1) (table 2). Last summer, the interviewees reduced the use of other electrical appliances and used air-conditioners more (table 3). The median of monthly electricity fee was $350, which was higher than that in the first half year of 2015 ($300) for 16.7% (table 4). 69.3% “N-noers” do not have independent meters of power companies (table 5). 68.8% interviewees need to pay the electricity fee directly to the property owners (table 6) and 83.3% of them pay a much higher electricity fee than the minimum rate of the power companies (table 7). Only 2.2% interviewees can accurately tell the electricity subsidy and allowance scheme.
 
“N-noers” are working labours who do not own any private flats, do not live in public housing estates, and do not apply for comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA). The Salvation Army has been providing direct services to “N-noers” with the Community Care Fund since 2012. However, as the value of private property keeps rising, the rental rate has increased for 44%(*2) in these three years . The Army has been studying the percentage of rental expenditure of family income for three years, which has increased 29.7%(*3). Although subsidies have been released by the Community Care Fund, the specific needs of “N-noers” are not met.
 
*1: The “affordable rate of electrity fee” is less than 1.77% of the total family income, according to the Monthly Report on the Consumer Price Index by Census and Statistic Department in May 2015, P.28.
*2: “ ‘Private Domestic – Price Index’ reaches the highest among the past 10 years”, Mingpao, 25 June 2015.
*3: In January 2013, The Salvation Army released a survey about “N-noers”. From that time till April 2015, the percentage of rental expenditure of family income rises from 31.4% to 40.8%.
 
Case 1: Ah Fu (alias), 24 years old
 
Ah Fu (alias) has been living alone since 17 years old. He originally rented a 80 sq. ft. sub-divided unit in Sai Wan Ho, but due to the increasing rent, he first moved to Shaukeiwan, then moved farther away from urban areas ($4,800 rent/month, $2/electricity unit, $10/water unit). He has been living in a tin-sheeted flat in the rural area of Yuen Long for three years, paying a rent of $3,200 and a sum of $500 electricity fee per month. When summer comes, the tin-sheeted flat absorbs so much heat that Ah Fu needs to turn on the air-conditioner, hence the electricity fee rises. Unfortunately, he lost his job after injury. Even when the air-conditioner broke, he could not afford to repair it. Now he has to bear over 40˚C in the flat every day.
 
Case 2: Ms Wong, over 40 years old
 
Ms Wong is a single mother, living in a sub-divided unit with her son in Shamshuipo. Her income relies on subsidies and part-time jobs. The 100 sq. ft. unit has poor air ventilation. The indoor temperature is much higher than that outside, so it is necessary to turn on the air-conditioner. However, the property owner charges a high electricity rate and does not accurately count the use of electricity. Since the expenditure increases in summer, Ms Wong and her son always wander the streets or visit the local community centre instead. She thinks that her financial burden will be eased if subsidy or allowance can be provided.
 
Conclusion and Suggestions:
 
The leaping rents and property prices have a great impact on “N-noers”, who suffer harsh living condition, limitation on energy usage and property owners’ exploitation. The findings of the survey and the Army’s suggestions have been concluded below: 
 
1. Recognise the problem of electricity and rental burden of “N-noers” ─ Compared with the past studies of The Salvation Army, rental expenditure costs 40% of the family income. Five-sixth of the interviewees’ electricity fee is higher than the affordable rate. The high temperature results in a poor living condition for the “N-noers”. When they use the air-conditioner more, they need to use other electrical appliances less.
 
2. Install independent meters in sub-divided units to prevent exploitation ─ The study reveals that nearly 70% of the sub-divided units do not have independent meters of power companies. As “N-noers” need to directly pay electricity fee to the owners, over 80% of them are charged at a higher rate than the minimum rate of power companies. We suggest the government and two power companies review Supply Rules No 217 (4) that “a Customer shall not supply to or share with any third party electricity obtained from the Company”, and install independent meters in sub-divided units to prevent overcharging by owners and ensure electricity safety. The governments may add rules or punishment to the owners who overcharge the tenants.
 
3. Welcome direct subsidy and electricity fee allowance ─ “N-noers” have limited knowledge about electricity subsidy and allowance, and they cannot benefit from the government’s electricity subsidy scheme.  Both the government and power companies have not provided any specific subsidy or allowance for “N-noers”. We suggest the Community Care Fund provide a one-off summer electricity subsidy for “N-noers”, and the power companies reduce the electricity fee within a certain level. 
 
The Salvation Army Hong Kong and Macau Command states the following principles in “Positional Statement Economic Justice” (extract):
 
  • All people have a right to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).
  • The Salvation Army believes that certain structure in particular societies can perpetuate economic injustice and is committed to seek constructive changes in those structures wherever they exist. 
 
In conclusion, The Salvation Army sincerely hope the government and two power companies will consider the opinions of “N-noers”, their poor living condition and hardships, and the need of air ventilation and cooling from high temperature, as well as the problem of overcharging by owners due to the lack of independent meters. Allowance or subsidy can help reduce the financial burden of “N-noers” and improve their lives.
 
The Salvation Army intervie...
Ah Fu (right) says the high...
Five-sixth of the interview...