Ombudsman's message

Energy affordability

In January 2012 IPART released data showing that 2010-2011electricity disconnections due to non-payment of bills were up 17% on 2009-2010 – when we saw some improvements – with numbers returning to levels consistent with previous years. Similarly, the number of residential gas disconnections for non-payment of gas bills increased by 18% in 2010-2011. These numbers are concerning and mirror EWON’s own experience: in the same period we saw a 21% increase in credit related complaints from customers.

2012 is the United Nations year of Sustainable Energy for All. In the Australian context, this prompts a closer look at the issues of energy affordability, especially in the context of further increases in energy bills for customers over the next few years.

During 2012 we will continue our work with stakeholders on the issue of affordability. We are consulting with the NSW government on our call to extend the Low Income Household Rebate to eligible residents of retirement villages, and to extend the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme to eligible customers of exempt suppliers and customers with LPG. We have suggested a service to property charge rebate and the option of pay as you go meters for NSW customers who might prefer this form of payment.

We are concerned about an increase in debt collection and credit default listing issues, particularly credit default listing for small amounts eg less than $200. We are also concerned about the use of expensive ‘credit fix’ agents by consumers who may not be aware of EWON’s free service.

New scheme to address marketing problems for energy consumers

As the level of energy marketing activity in NSW escalated last year, following the sale of government owned retailers and the entry of new retailers, we recorded large increases in marketing complaints.

A self-regulatory approach to marketing is now being taken by energy retailers. January 2012 saw the launch of Energy Assured Limited (EAL), an energy industry scheme to monitor and improve standards of door to door marketing.

This should help to prevent marketers who engage in misleading practices from continuing to work in the industry. We hope to see a corresponding decrease in marketing complaints over the next 12 months.

In the meantime, we continue to receive complaints about various energy marketing practices, including ignoring ‘No Marketing’ signs, marketing to vulnerable people and non-account holders, and high pressure marketing where customers report feeling intimidated into signing a contract.

New EWON member

We welcome AquaNet as a new water member of EWON. AquaNet is part of the Jemena group and has an agreement to build, own and operate the Rose Hill Recycled Water Scheme.