Media Release: Annual Report 2018-19

Energy & Water Ombudsman releases 2018-19 Annual Report

28 October 2019

Consumers were inconvenienced and frustrated by the failure of some electricity retailers to adapt to a new electricity metering regime.

That is the key message from the 2018-19 annual report released today by South Australia’s Energy & Water Ombudsman.

Total complaints to the Ombudsman’s office rose by 4% – following a 17% increase in the previous financial year – largely because of ongoing problems with introduction of electricity “metering competition”, which has seen retailers take over responsibility for new and replacement meters from distributors.

“It is a relatively small rise but nevertheless it is a frustrating rise because the competition changes came into effect at the end of December 2017, so retailers have now had 18 months to get things right,” Ombudsman Sandy Canale said.

“These issues cause real difficulties for consumers, particularly those looking to install solar systems or move into new homes or business locations.

“We’ve now had two years of increases follow four successive years of falls. However, it must be acknowledged that even with competition issues discounted there was a slight increase in complaints this year.”

From the Scheme’s inception, the volume of complaints increased progressively, peaking in 2012-13 at 21,130 cases. It then decreased steadily for four years – to 8,828 in 2016-17 – but rose to 10,324 in 2017-18 and 10,719 in 2018-19.

Electricity issues made up 81% of all cases received by the Ombudsman’s office during the year, gas issues 14%, and water issues 5%. This was unchanged from the previous year.

Once again, the major issues causing complaints related to billing (4,463 cases), followed by service provision (2,190) and credit management (1,433).

There was a significant 29% increase in complaints related to meter installation or removal, with disconnection complaints not related to financial hardship increasing by 55%. However, cases relating to meter tests and reads fell by 23%.

Credit management and financial hardship cases were similar to previous years.

In line with changes introduced by the Australian Energy Regulator, providers of “embedded networks” – such as owners and operators of apartment blocks, caravan parks, and aged-care and lifestyle facilities – were required to become Members of the Scheme from 1 January 2019, giving consumers access to effective energy dispute resolution processes.

“While most are relatively small in terms of absolute numbers of residents, they will, over time, become a significant group of providers,” Mr Canale said. “So far, the new Members are proving to be interested and enthusiastic and we have received very few complaints in this area.”

The Energy and Water Ombudsman’s Scheme was established following the privatisation of South Australia’s electricity industry in 1999. A licence condition was imposed on all providers to participate in an independent scheme to ensure fair practice and effective dispute resolution.

The Scheme’s members include all electricity and gas distribution, transmission and retail entities and water and sewerage service providers. At the end of 2018-19 there were 70 electricity members, 10 gas members and 10 water members.

Download the 2018-19 Annual Report