Durban - Cash-strapped consumers may be forced to tamper with electricity meters if the steep increases continue.

This is according to Julie Smith, a researcher for the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group.

She was reacting to Eskom’s application for an extra 15% tariff increase.

The power utility has already been granted a 4.1% increase with effect from April next year under the regulatory clearing account.

However, Eskom has also applied for an additional 15% tariff increase, which the National Energy Regulator of South Africa is considering.

Smith said electricity was already very expensive and if Eskom obtained an increase of 15%, it would be “devastating” for consumers.

“More and more households will illegally connect electricity, which means that Eskom and the municipalities will lose even more revenue because it’s the only real survival strategy that households have,” Smith said.

“Households typically use about 350kW a month and in Pietermaritzburg that comes to about R530. This is 14% of what would be a national minimum wage of R3500,” she said.

Ronald Chauke, energy portfolio manager for the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse said Eskom’s proposed increase is bound to place electricity out of reach for many South Africans and further encourage the poor not to pay for services.

“Remember, electricity reduces poverty, improves health, increases productivity and improves standards of living. But it must remain affordable - it’s a basic human right,” he said.

The Mercury