EWOSA News - November 2023
- EWOSA News - November 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
I am pleased to inform you that EWOSA’s 2022-23 Annual Report was released in early October and can be accessed here in PDF format on our website.
As this was the first full financial year since the disruptions caused by Covid-19, it is not surprising that complaints about energy and water supply rose by 16% as people and businesses began returning to more normal routines. However, complaint levels were still below those for 2019-20, the last year before the start of the pandemic.
Of particular concern to me was a 26% increase in billing complaints to 3939 – the highest total since 2014-15.
In all, we received 7848 cases during the year; 84% related to electricity enquiries or complaints, 11% to gas and the remainder to water. Of these, 89% were resolved within 30 days and 97% within 60 days, which is a pleasing result and a credit to my team.
There is still much work to be done to assist struggling consumers in South Australia. The financial and economic impact of Covid-19 has lessened, which is a positive, but that means that related financial supports such as a moratorium on disconnections have ended.
Together with increased debt in many households, mortgage/rent stress and cost-of-living increases, this means that financial pressures are significant and pervasive across the community.
Rising energy prices are also having an impact. We received a 47% jump in complaints in the September 2023 quarter, as the first bills arrived after the large price increases. Many people were shocked by the sudden increase in power bills and called our office to ask whether they were legitimate.
In total, we received 2,017 complaints in the September 2023 quarter, which is a 23% increase on the same period last year and the highest volume of complaints in four years. While gas and electricity complaints went up, water complaints have been relatively steady.
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
The Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA) is conducting the regulatory determination for SA Water, which released its Regulatory Business Plan (RBP) for 2024-28 in late August.
This RBP outlines the expenditure SA Water plans to undertake to provide water and sewerage services to consumers during the 2024-28 period and the revenue required to provide them. Water and sewerage prices for customers are set at the end of the regulatory determination process.
Five themes drive the RBP: delivering reliable water services; improving customer experience; ensuring water security into the future; providing equitable and affordable services; and being a leader in environmental and sustainable practices.
Submissions to ESCOSA on SA Water’s RBP closed on 4 October and EWOSA provided a response.
Further opportunity to provide feedback during ESCOSA’s regulatory determination process will be possible when ESCOSA releases a draft determination, scheduled for January or February 2024.
To read SA Water’s RBP, you can visit https://www.sawater.com.au/about-us/how-we-operate/planning-for-2024-28 and to keep up to date with ESCOSA’s regulatory determination process, you can visit https://www.escosa.sa.gov.au/industry/water/retail-pricing/sa-water-regulatory-determination-2024.
Infrastructure SA, an independent South Australian Government agency, released a Discussion Paper on 1 October on South Australia’s next 20 Year State Infrastructure Strategy.
The paper considers a wide range of infrastructure, in addition to energy transmission and water supply, including roads, rail, ports, telecommunications, as well as affordable housing, health and education. The energy transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is also part of the Discussion Paper.
Submissions on the Discussion Paper are due by November 13. You can read the Discussion Paper and provide a response, including by filling out a survey, by visiting https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/state-infrastructure-strategy-url.
The Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources released a Consultation Paper on 3 October on Australia’s Future Gas Strategy.
The strategy is designed to support the Australian economy to become a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases, promote Australia's energy security and affordability, enhance Australia’s reputation as an attractive trade and investment destination and help our trade partners on their own paths to net zero.
The Consultation Paper tends to focus on gas supply and gas demand issues and makes little reference to protections for energy consumers or placing customers at the heart of the gas strategy.
Submissions on the Consultation Paper are due by 13 November. You can read the Consultation Paper and provide a response by visiting https://consult.industry.gov.au/future-gas-strategy.
Consumer Trends 2
Ms R initially complained that she no longer had hot water because her provider’s meter was faulty. She wanted the meter replaced.
We found the provider had replaced the faulty controlled load meter but had failed to program it to only operate off-peak.
This meant water was heating on demand throughout the day. Ms R was thus billed more than she should have been as the provider charges higher rates for electricity use recorded outside off-peak times.
The provider reprogrammed the meter to only allow the hot water service to operate off-peak.
A credit of $100 was applied to Ms R’s account, representing the difference between peak and off-peak rates between January and May 2023.
An additional $150 credit was applied in recognition of the inconvenience caused.
Mr L contacted our office concerned about the accuracy of his bills as the cumulative read on his smart meter for his solar export did not align with his bills and his meter was not recording in local time for South Australia.
The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) previously concluded that meter readings on bills with smart meters are generally insufficient to allow customers to reconcile bills.
Unlike the older basic meters, smart meters measure usage in intervals, not on a cumulative basis. Display readings from a smart meter do not always correspond to the actual energy use recorded on the meter. Therefore, Mr L’s provider is not required to display meter reads on his bills, just the total use and export for that period.
Mr L has a manually read smart meter so the data cannot be obtained remotely. It requires attendance by the meter provider to download each quarter’s interval data. This meant Mr L received revised bills each quarter, because an actual read attendance occurred after the bill period ended.
We found that Mr L’s revised bills from December 2022 to June 2023 were based on the total interval data recorded on his smart meter and his contracted rates. The provider also correctly apportioned the Time of Use (ToU) charges in accordance with his contract terms and local time zone.
The provider apologised for any customer service shortcomings and made changes to Mr L’s account to reduce the number of revised bills being issued to him.
Consumer Trends 3
The Better Bills Guideline, released by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), came into effect at the end of September. It contains requirements for how and where energy retailers provide information on your electricity and/or gas bills. This should make energy bills and usage easier to understand.
The first page of your bill will include your name and address, the amount due and due date, the bill issue date, allowed payment methods, your customer account number and meter number, telephone numbers of your retailer, distributor and the Energy and Water Ombudsman.
On the second page of your bill will be a summary of the energy plan you are on, details about the tariffs and charges and any credits you might receive, the billing period, meter readings (current and previous) and energy usage.
Average daily usage information will also be provided and so will contact details if you need to access financial assistance, interpreter services or services if you have hearing or speech impediments.
Following the substantial energy price rises recently, it is important that you check the “Could you save money on another plan?” part on the front page of your bill and contact your retailer to change offers if they advise you of a better offer. Their telephone number will be on the bill.
To compare your current offer and the better offer from your current retailer with offers from other retailers, visit the Energy Made Easy website run by the AER at https://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/ or call the AER on 1300 585 165.
Australian Gas Networks (AGN) – the gas distribution company in South Australia – launched their Priority Services program at the end of July.
AGN’s Priority Services are designed to assist vulnerable customers who need extra help. With Priority Services, you will have access to a dedicated customer care team at AGN, which can provide you with access to additional support and services when you need them the most.
Priority Services include:
- Free gas appliance safety checks
- Emergency repairs to gas hot water services, gas heaters, gas cookers and ovens
- A one-off rebate of up to $1250 to help replace a broken or unsafe appliance.
For more information on AGN’s Priority Services, to see whether you are eligible and how to apply, you can visit https://www.australiangasnetworks.com.au/priority-services or call 1300 427 777 from Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm.
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