Business questions electricity fees during pandemic
THE coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented time for local business, with many forced to shut under government restrictions.
However, despite using minimal or no electricity, businesses like Gladstone Cinemas and Game On have still been hit with thousands of dollars of network charges on their electricity bills.
The charges are a minimum-demand usage fee, meaning the businesses are billed for a set amount each month based on electricity usage during regular operation.
Owner Chris Struik said at Cinemas and Game On, these charges represented about $6000 per month, with minimal electricity used for security and maintenance purposes.
Through some digging, Mr Struik found the network charges were collected by his energy supplier on behalf of the government.
"The (State) Government have shut us down, so we're closed because of them," Mr Struik said.
"But they're still demanding we pay them their cop from the power game.
"We're saying 'hang on a minute, we're closed so how can you possibly expect us to pay that?'.
"It's just wrong."
Mr Struik recognised the government for it's work in taking care of its tenants with rent relief and other initiatives, but said the electricity charges were an "oversight".
"There's no reason for them and no one's been able to explain a reason why we should be paying it," he said.
"It's not about the money, it's about the principle of the charge."
Despite initial challenges, Mr Struik was able to involve the State Government and get the charges waived for Game On. At the time of publication, he was still awaiting an outcome in relation to charges for Gladstone Cinemas.
"They've got to start looking at these charges," Mr Struik said. "A lot of businesses would be in the same position and it's potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in the three to four months."
Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher said responding to COVID-19 had been an unprecedented challenge for government and businesses.
Mr Butcher encouraged businesses experiencing difficulties with their electricity bills because of impacts from the pandemic to contact their electricity retailer to explore available options.
"Support is available and can be worked out with your retailer," he said.
And with so many businesses impacted by COVID-19, the State Government put measures in place to reduce long term effects. Some of the assistance that has been made available for businesses includes:
• Six-month rent relief for government building tenants.
• Land tax relief for commercial property owners which must be passed onto tenants in the form of rent relief.
• Payroll tax relief - two-month refund, three-month holiday, six-month deferral - most businesses will not pay payroll tax for 2020.
• $500 energy rebates for small and medium sized businesses.
• $1 billion COVID-19 Jobs Support Loan scheme.
• Waiving of liquor licence fees.
• Free one-on-one mentoring.
• Free business resilience workshops at TAFE.
• 15 free online TAFE courses available through Jobs Finder portal.
• Small business adaptation grants.
Mr Butcher encouraged small businesses to contact the hotline on 1300 654 687 to discuss their needs.