EWOSA News - August 2023
- EWOSA News - August 2023
Welcome to the latest edition of the Energy and Water Ombudsman SA (EWOSA) quarterly newsletter: your one stop shop for emerging consumer trends, hot issues and policy matters.
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From the Ombudsman
Energy affordability continues to be a major issue, particularly for low-income households and concession-card holders.
While complaint levels declined as the 2022-23 financial year progressed, we still received 1358 complaints in the final quarter, which is 13% higher compared to this time last year. Overall, 60% of complaints relate to billing issues.
We also received a larger than usual number of pricing enquiries in June, mostly related to consumers receiving notification of price increases.
In late May, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released the Default Market Offer (DMO) price for 2023-24, which came into effect on July 1.
In South Australia the price rose by 22.5% for residential customers with controlled load (usually electric hot water systems) and nearly 24% for those without controlled load. The rise for small business customers was almost 29%.
The DMO is the maximum price a retailer can charge customers on standard retail contracts and is intended to protect consumers from unjustifiably high prices.
One of the AER’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2023-24 is to make it easier for consumers to understand their energy plan and engage in the market by focusing on compliance with billing and pricing information obligations.
This includes the Better Bills Guideline, which will come into force on September 30. It requires retailers to include a “better offer” statement on the first page of a bill, telling the customer if they can offer a better deal, including the retailer’s standing offer.
We want you to know that we are here to help if you are unable to resolve a matter with your provider or need some information. Please contact us on 1800 665 565 or via our website if you need assistance.
Energy and Water Ombudsman SA
Consumer Trends 1
On June 30 the State Government released a Green Paper on South Australia’s Energy Transition as part of the consultative process to develop an energy transition policy for the next three decades. This is expected to see the energy system reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The Green Paper considers issues such as the future of renewable energy, storage batteries, electric vehicles and hydrogen, the evolution of energy technology, energy efficiency, the use of energy in the economy and home, energy literacy and equity concerns.
Feedback will be received until August 13. For information on how to have your say go to https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/energytransition
EWOSA has made a submission to the inquiry into Retail Energy Prices being undertaken by the Essential Services Commission of South Australia at the request of the Minister for Energy and Mining.
Its Terms of Reference are to look into the evidence of, or the potential for, a party (retailer, generator, trading entity or relevant other party) in the electricity industry and/or gas industry to earn or have earned sustained super profits to the financial detriment of South Australian energy consumers.
A Draft Report is expected to be released, with a Final Report likely before the end of the year.
The Australian Energy Market Commission released a Directions Paper on Unlocking CER Benefits Through Flexible Trading on August 3.
The paper considers a rule change request that would enable consumers to have CER, such as storage batteries, rooftop solar PV and electric vehicles, separately metered. This would enable consumers to engage with multiple service providers and get better value from their CER, as well as enable the electricity system to operate more efficiently, reliably and securely.
In February, EWOSA and other energy ombudsman in Australia provided a joint submission calling for consideration to be given to:
- extending consumer protections for customers at the primary connection point to the supply of energy at the secondary settlement point, particularly access to external dispute resolution through ombudsman schemes
- educating consumers
- access to information
- the risk that further consumer protection gaps could emerge if new business models are enabled before a fit-for-purpose consumer protection framework is established.
Submissions on the Directions Paper are due in early September, with a Draft Determination expected in October.
Consumer Trends 2
Mr M had been disputing a catch-up bill following underestimated bills. He was dissatisfied with how his complaint was being managed and decided to transfer to another provider.
The provider then issued a final bill requesting payment of the account in full. As Mr M had previously been on a payment arrangement, he expected this would continue.
Mr M asked his provider to continue his payment arrangement, but this was refused because his account was closed.
We reviewed Mr M’s payment arrangements with his provider and the final bill.
Mr M’s provider was under no regulatory obligation to provide an extension or payment plan on a closed account. However, we asked his provider to reconsider its position.
The provider offered two payment options for the final account balance.
Option one was for equal payments of $26 per fortnight with a final instalment of $24.59.
Option two was for equal payments of $20 per fortnight with a final instalment of $18.59.
Mr M was given 10 business days to contact the provider to set up his preferred option.
Ms B was seeking a billing adjustment after high bills caused by a faulty meter.
After Ms B transferred to her provider, she received a very high first bill of more than $5,500.
Her second bill was around $7,000.
Her provider sent a request to SA Power Networks to test the meter and it was found to be recording faster than it should have been.
Adjusted meter data was sent to Ms B’s provider based on her actual consumption recorded on the new meter. Ms B’s provider then issued revised bills based on the adjusted meter data.
We reviewed and verified the adjusted bills were correct.
Ms B’s provider provided a $100 goodwill credit in recognition of the time taken to resolve the complaint and the inconvenience it caused.
Consumer Trends 3
There are a few things customers can do to minimise the impact of rising energy prices.
The first is to shop around for better energy offers. You can phone your retailer directly (a contact number is at the top of your energy bill) or you can compare plans from different retailers by going on the Energy Made Easy website run by the AER at https://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/ . You can also call them on 1300 585 165.
Concession card holders are entitled to, energy bill benefits of up to $263.15 for 2023-24 from the South Australian Government. Concessions also are available if you require medical heating and cooling at home, if you are undergoing dialysis treatment at home or if you live in a residential caravan park. For more information, go to https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/energy-and-environment/energy-bills/financial-assistance or call 1800 307 758.
In the recent State Budget, the Government also provided additional support of $500 for residential concession-card holders and $650 for small businesses (that consume less than 160 MWh of electricity per year). These payments will be split into four equal parts over the 2023-24 financial year. For more information, follow this link: https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/care-and-support/concessions/household-concessions/energy-bill-relief
All energy retailers are required to have financial hardship policies in place and to offer support for customers experiencing difficulties paying their bills. Do not feel embarrassed about asking for help – you won’t be alone. According to recent AER data, almost 15,750 South Australians are on payment plans.
Payment plans allow you to pay a regular amount towards your bill. These are smaller and more frequent payments, which will help you with household budgeting.
We understand that cost of living pressures might be making it hard for you to pay your bills, including water and sewerage. SA Water’s Customer Assist Program provides support to its residential customers experiencing temporary or permanent financial hardship.
SA Water’s dedicated team can help to:
- Arrange an interest free and flexible weekly, fortnightly or monthly payment plan
- Connect you with free, confidential and independent financial counselling, support and assistance
- Set up a Centrepay to help reduce your payment defaults
- In some circumstances organise a licensed plumber to fix leaks, install a water efficient shower head and provide advice on water saving opportunities.
To access help from SA Water, you can follow this link: https://www.sawater.com.au/my-account/my-bill/help-paying-my-bill, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 08 7424 1650 during business hours.
The South Australian Government also has a water and sewerage rate concession for eligible concession-card holders and Centrelink payment recipients. For more information, follow this link: https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/care-and-support/concessions/household-concessions/water-and-sewerage-rate-concession
Consumer Trends 4
The number of complaints per 10,000 customers for each supplier is calculated by dividing the number of complaints received during the quarter by the total number of customers for each supplier, multiplied by 10,000. Large Suppliers are those with over 100,000 customers, Medium-sized Suppliers have between 10,000 and 100,000 customers, Small Suppliers have between 1,000 and 10,000 customers and Very Small Suppliers have less than 1,000 customers. The total number of complaints is also presented for context.
Remember, we are here to help
EWOSA facilitates the prompt resolution of complaints and disputes between consumers of electricity, gas and water services and Members of the Scheme by providing a service to consumers which is free, independent, accessible, fair and informal.
Freecall 1800 665 565
SMS 0488 854 555