Media Release: Annual Report 2019-20

Energy & Water Ombudsman releases 2019-20 Annual Report

12 October 2020

Support Through Pandemic Reduces Customer Complaints To Ombudsman

Energy and water suppliers support for their customers since Covid-19 restrictions began in March has reduced complaints to the Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOSA) by 19 per cent in the year to June 2020.

This combined with new energy rules from the Australian Energy Market Commission allow consumers to better manage bill affordability and require retailers to provide advance notice of price changes as well as protecting consumers from large penalties when they miss pay-on-time conditions.

Ombudsman Sandy Canale said fewer complaints came at a time when unemployment rates increased and people spent more time at home, likely increasing their energy use.

“In response to the pandemic, strong regulator and business action ensured additional support options for those who needed it. This advanced action appears to have resulted in reduced numbers of complaints to our Scheme,’’ Mr Canale said.

“It is important that we and all agencies, state and national, continue to take a position that emphasises collaboration, connection and information sharing to help suppliers and consumers successfully navigate the challenges that lie ahead.”

The independent Energy and Water Ombudsman Scheme, which celebrated 20 years of operation this year, ensures fair practice and effective dispute resolution between electricity, gas and water providers and their customers by providing a free, independent, accessible, fair and informal service to consumers.

EWOSA’s annual report, released today, showed a steady 19 per cent fall in cases received to 8,690 at June 30, with most complaints related to billing (43 per cent).

Complaints related to billing (3,770 cases), credit management including financial hardship (1,387 cases) and service provision such as connections and meter readings (1,342 cases).

The 16 per cent fall in billing complaints from the previous year coincided with the easing of credit collection and disconnections by retailers since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in March.

Complaints about credit management fell 3 per cent from the previous year despite financial hardship cases climbing by 15 per cent.

Electricity customers contributed to 80 per cent of cases compared with gas (15 per cent) and water consumers (5 per cent).

Mr Canale said the Scheme’s staff moved offsite and continued to work with its 108 members on robust processes to deliver households and businesses with their energy and water needs.

“It is pleasing to see that there has been widespread recognition of the hardship and affordability issues some customers are facing,’’ Mr Canale said.

Meanwhile the transformation of the energy market continued with new and emerging technologies such as off- grid supplies, solar panels and battery storage increasingly being adopted by households and businesses.

But the move could leave many consumers outside the protection of the Ombudsman, Mr Canale said.

“Most energy consumers have access to an ombudsman scheme in the circumstances where they cannot resolve a dispute with their providers who are members of a scheme,’’ he said.

“However, it is apparent that the new technologies enable more consumers to move away from traditional energy supply arrangements and become customers of providers with new business models.

“This could mean that some consumers no longer have access to current energy-specific legislative protections and may become more reliant on Australian Consumer Law to resolve disputes.”

Mr Canale said the Scheme discussed consumer protections for these new energy products and services and joined with the Australia and New Zealand Energy and Water Ombudsman’s Network and regulators to further consider how the consumer protection framework could evolve.

For further information or enquiries please contact:

Sandy Canale

Energy and Water Ombudsman SA

GPO Box 2947 Adelaide SA 5001

T 08 8216 1866

Download the 2019-20 Annual Report