The head of the NSW pricing regulator has called on power companies to more actively promote alternative payment options, after a sharp spike in the number of customers being disconnected.
According to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's (IPART) annual performance report into the state's 12 electricity and eight gas retailers, both disconnections and complaints have significantly risen.
The report found that residential disconnections for non-payment of power bills rose 25 per cent to 23,207 in the 2011-12 financial year, while gas disconnections increased by 15 per cent to 20,118.
Meanwhile, complaints about electricity retailers jumped 53 per cent to 51,092 over the same period, with half concerned with billing.
There was also a 31 per cent increase in complaints about gas retailers, to 17,366, with 51 per cent relating to billing, IPART said.
IPART chief Jim Cox said despite people finding it increasingly difficult to pay their bills, not everybody was accessing the hardship support gas and electricity retailers should be providing.
"Despite increasing levels of disconnections, the proportion of residential customers using instalment plans to pay their electricity bills has not increased, suggesting that consumers may not always be aware of the options available to them," Mr Cox said in a statement on Monday.
"Retailers need to work harder with their customers and actively promote the payment options available before those experiencing hardship are faced with disconnection."
The NSW government called on retailers to better advertise options for customers experiencing financial hardship.
"I encourage any customer that is having difficulty paying their electricity and gas bills to contact their retailer to work out a payment plan," Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said in a statement.
"I would like to remind all electricity and gas retailers of their hardship obligations and encourage retailers to ensure that they identify potential hardship customers early so they remain connected to electricity and gas."
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said the government needed to boost financial assistance to those struggling to pay their bills.
"I encourage the premier to adopt Labor's proposal ... to invest $55 million over the next four years to increase the number and value of energy vouchers available through the Energy Account Payment Assistance scheme," Mr Robertson said in a statement.
"Under Labor's plan, more than 8000 additional families would receive up to $640 a year to help pay their electricity bills.
"Increasing funding for energy vouchers would help reduce disconnections by giving families the help they need before the power's cut off."