Consumer issues

'Credit fixing' sees financial problems bite vulnerable consumers twice

Credit related complaints and credit listing for utility debts are on the rise. Along with this, EWON is seeing increased numbers of complaints being lodged through credit repair agents.

EWON is concerned that some consumers in financial hardship are paying costly fees to credit repair agencies for Ombudsman services they can access directly for free. What’s more, these fees may compound money problems that might have led to the credit listing in the first place.

The prospect of fixing a credit problem can be overwhelming and it isn’t surprising that some customers turn to ‘credit repair’ agents for help. But they are generally better off going directly to an Ombudsman service rather than a paid agent.

When EWON receives an authority to act form from a commercial agent, we make contact directly with the consumer to check that they are aware that they can access EWON’s service for free. Often we find that these consumers did not know the agent was using a service available to consumers free of charge to resolve their problem. In many cases, they then opt to deal with EWON directly to avoid further agent costs and try to recover fees already paid. These fees can exceed $1000, which is often far more than the debt for which the customer has been credit listed.

EWON is working to raise awareness of its free service among consumers so they can avoid further and unnecessary costs. We have modified our authority to act form to emphasise to consumers signing the document that our service is free. EWON is also calling for the minimum debt for credit listing to be raised to $300.

New energy and water pricing effective 1 July 2012

This energy and water pricing is sourced from IPART.

The expected price rises for electricity on standard contracts are:
Energy Australia
19.2% or $6.50 per week on an average bill
Integral Energy
10.3% or $3.51 per week on an average bill
Country Energy
17.6% or $7.32 per week on an average bill

IPART notes that these rises are the result of increasing network costs. The different increases are due to variations in the actual cost of providing electricity in each of the three NSW network areas.

The expected price rises for gas on standard contracts are:
AGL
6.3% or $45 per annum
Country Energy
7.1% or $55 per annum
Origin Energy
9.0% or $75 per annum
ActewAGL
5.5–7.6% or $29-84 per annum

The majority of price rises will flow through to all customers regardless of their retailer or whether they are on a standard or market contract. For more information go to: www.ipart.nsw.gov.au

While vulnerable households stand to be affected by energy price increases, the Federal Government advises that payments through Centrelink and some revisions to income tax will provide compensation for the carbon cost component of the price rises.

New pricing for Sydney Water is also due to come into effect from 1 July 2012.

The price decreases (without inflation) for single dwelling households expected to occur over the next four years are based on consumption levels as follows:
• 100Kl pa: 6.4% or $57
• 200Kl pa: 5.2% or $57
• 300Kl pa: 4.4% or $58

During that period, prices for individually metered apartments are expected to decrease by:
100Kl pa: 6.4% or $57
200Kl pa: 5.2% or $57

Prices for apartments with a common meter are expected to increase by:
100Kl pa: 2.2% or $18
200Klpa: 1.7% or $17

Stormwater drainage charges for individual houses will increase from $49 to $86 over four years and for apartments this charge will decrease from $49 to $16 over four years.

Minimum disconnection amount to be introduced 1 July 2012

Under the current regulations in NSW, a customer’s gas or electriciy can be disconnected regardless of how much is owing on their account. The situation is different across the states. Some states have no minimum amount that must be owing before disconnection can occur, but others do apply a minimum, although the specific amount varies.

This is due to change under the new National Energy Consumer Framework (NECF). As of 1 July 2012, when the NECF is expected to come into effect in NSW, a standard minimum debt of $300 for gas and electricity will be introduced. This will create consistency and fairness for consumers and will protect households from disconnection as long as the amount owing on their account is less than $300 and the customer agrees to pay the debt.

EWON has called for a minumum disconnection amount and we welcome its introduction.