Media Release: Annual Report 2020-21

Energy and water complaints fall during pandemic

Energy and water suppliers have played their part in helping consumers weather the impact of COVID-19, according to South Australia’s Energy & Water Ombudsman (EWOSA).

Complaints received by the EWOSA Office fell by 18% last financial year – to 7142 from 8690 the previous year – despite the ongoing impact of the global pandemic.

In its 2020-21 Annual Report released today, EWOSA says this is in part because “regulators and suppliers took positive steps to protect vulnerable consumers”.

“One significant example of the action taken… was the cessation of electricity disconnections for non-payment of bills,” the report says.

Disconnection cases related to credit management issues, including as a result of non-payment of bills, dropped by 69%.

Energy and Water Ombudsman, Mr Sandy Canale, said it was pleasing that suppliers also had continued to be proactive in early resolution of complaints.

“We have seen significantly reduced numbers of credit management complaints since March of 2020, indicating a low occurrence of cases related to financial hardship and disconnections,” he said.

The report suggests the impact of COVID-19 was more pronounced at the start of the pandemic.

Normally the lowest case numbers each financial year are recorded in December, but in 2019-20 there was a significant decline from March onwards, which aligned with the start of the economic disruption.

In 2020-21, however, things were closer to the normal seasonal pattern, with the exception of a 13-year low in April 2021, which can most likely be attributed – at least in part – to the very mild summer and subsequent reduced energy use.

Mr Canale said EWOSA was working with others in the Australia and New Zealand Energy and Water Ombudsman Network, and with energy and water suppliers, to understand the experiences of small customers during the pandemic.

Research conducted for The Energy Charter found that 52% of people say COVID-19 had increased their stress levels, and that the proportion of people needing hardship support has persisted.

As in previous years, and in common with experiences interstate, the highest number of cases referred to EWOSA related to billing issues. However, there was an overall decrease of cases of 18% in 2020/21, compared to the previous year.

Of all cases handled during the year, four in five were related to electricity supply, followed by gas (14%) and water (6%).

Around 86% of cases were resolved within 30 days, and 96% within 60 days. Research suggests a customer satisfaction rate of 96% in relation to EWOSA’s performance.

The Energy & 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 117 members include all electricity and gas distribution, transmission and retail entities and water and sewerage service providers. In 2020-21 there were 90 electricity members, 16 gas members and 11 water members.

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 2020-21 Annual Report