Media Release: Mid-Year Report 2019 - 20

Complaints to Ombudsman fall as changing power and water sectors create new issues

3 February 2020

Energy and water consumers complained less in the six months to January 2020 than in the previous half year, an Energy and Water Ombudsman SA’s report says.

The 2019-20 Mid-Year Report, released today, shows complaints fell for each six-month period since July 2018 with 4,965 complaints made in the first half of 2019 - 267 fewer than in the previous six months.

“While the current financial year began with a stable number of complaints, they dropped sharply towards January, most notably those related to energy,’’ said Ombudsman Sandy Canale.

Electricity issues made up 80 per cent of all cases received by the Ombudsman’s office during the reporting period, a reduction of one per cent compared to 2018-19.

“It is pleasing to see some changes in the management of complaints by energy suppliers, with continued effort being put into early resolution of complaints before they are escalated to our office,” Mr Canale said.

Once again, the major issue causing complaints related to billing (2,225 cases). This was followed by credit management (824 cases) and service provision (747 cases).

Customer meters, credit management and voltage variations are all sources of complaints to the Scheme which feature in the 2019-20 Mid-Year Report.

“Some customers have had to wait several months to have their solar meter installed or faulty meter replaced. While the overall levels of metering complaints have significantly reduced since the rules were changed last year, the Scheme continues to receive complaints about metering delays”, said Mr Canale.

“Debt and disconnection are very real for some of our customers. Around 56 per cent of electricity hardship customers cannot afford to pay what they use, and this problem is not going away. Some customers face the prospect of credit action or disconnection from an essential service.

“The growing penetration of rooftop solar is impacting on the ability to manage voltage in some areas. Solar households want to realise the full value of their investments and the network wants to maintain standards. Complaints about inverters switching on and off due to voltage variations are trending upwards,’’ he said.

“Some of the issues we see are related to the rapid transformation occurring in the energy and water sectors. New participants are entering the market and multiple parties now interface with the customer. The customer is also changing, with many embracing the new technologies on offer.

“In responding to all of the change, the complexity underlying some of the issues presents additional challenge. And yet it’s agreed that complexity is not a reason for inaction. We are encouraged that stakeholders continue to put effort in to finding constructive resolutions,” Mr Canale said.

Transfer of customers was one of the top five sub-issues of cases received by the Scheme. The report presents a case study of a customer who claimed he was incorrectly transferred to another retailer. The Scheme was able to work with the customer and retailer to resolve the complaint through a retrospective transfer back to the customer’s original retailer.

The independent Energy and Water Ombudsman Scheme commenced operations in 2000 to ensure fair practice and effective dispute resolution between electricity providers and their customers and was subsequently expanded to include gas and water consumers.