Families are buckling under the pressure of skyrocketing utility costs, leading one not-for-profit group to coin the term "energy poverty".In addition to interest rate hikes and spikes in petrol prices, Illawarra households will be forced to find, on average, an extra $187 to meet increases in electricity, gas and water bills over the next year.Of that figure, $86 will go to power bills, $68 to water and $33 to natural gas.Integral Energy, the primary supplier of electricity in the Illawarra, will raise prices by 7 per cent in 2010-11, with a cumulative rise of 20 per cent by 2012-13.Another 7 per cent hike is in order for Sydney Water customers, while AGL Gas customers will be slugged an extra 5 per cent this year, with a total increase of 13 per cent over three years.As the Mercury reported last week, the extra costs are hitting Illawarra residents hard, with the number of people needing assistance to pay their power bills more than trebling in five years.The Salvation Army estimates that not-for-profit groups in the region are giving out at least $250,000 per year in State Government vouchers to people struggling to cope with rising electricity costs.Utility providers are seeing a similar trend. Integral's INpower program, which supports customers with financial difficulties, had 7411 applicants in 2009-10, up from 3196 in the 2005-06 financial year.More than 1100 Illawarra customers are now receiving assistance under the INpower program.A spokesman for Sydney Water said the number of people asking for help paying water bills across Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Illawarra had risen from 139,312 in the 2008-09 financial year, to 158,804 in 2009-10.A spokeswoman for AGL said its hardship figures were not available.An annual report from the NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman yesterday revealed the number of complaints from electricity and water customers in the Illawarra to the ombudsman had nearly doubled from 575 in 2008-09 to 1061 in 2009-10.The region also ranked second in the state for the number of complaints per 10,000 people. Billing issues were the most common cause for complaint, followed by account credits and customer service.According to the Sydney-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, people are finding themselves in the grip of "energy poverty".Centre chief executive officer Ed Santow said families were the worst affected. "It affects people's day-to-day lives and impacts on their health and well-being."Mr Santow pointed to an October Wesley Mission report which found that about 425,000 NSW households were struggling to pay their utility bills."Family households are the households most at risk of being disconnected from energy supplies. Almost one-third of those disconnected report having a mental illness. Sole parents and the unemployed also experience energy poverty," Mr Santow said.He urged those facing mounting utility bills to first contact their provider, or look into a range of NSW Government schemes which can be accessed via the Energy Information Line on 1300 136 888.The State Government also provides a free, online service to help people find the best deals on gas, water and electricity. It can be accessed at the www.myenergyoffers.nsw.gov.au site.