What can I complain about?
You can make a complaint to the Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) if you are not satisfied with any decision or action an electricity or gas provider or marketer in New South Wales, and some water providers.
We recommend you try to sort out the problem with your provider first, but if the problem isn't fixed or you're not satisfied with their response, contact EWON or submit a complaint online. You can contact us at any time in the process for independent advice.
EWON can investigate a range of billing issues including:
- high bills or disputed accounts
- estimated accounts
- backbilling or catch up billing
- billing delays
- errors with rebates or concessions
While we do identify cases where an error has occurred, it is common for a high bill to be the result of a combination of factors such as:
- increased consumption due to seasonal variation (eg. increased use of a heater or air conditioner)
- faulty appliances
- new appliances
- more people living in the property
- increase in the tariff
- change in the tariff type (due to a meter change)
- catch up bill following an under-read or estimated bill
- different billing period
- first bill at a new address
- other charges on the account (transferred arrears, miscellaneous fees)
Other, less common causes of high bills include:
- meter reading error
- cross wiring of the premises (eg. where renovations have occurred)
- technical fault with the meter (this is rarely the cause of a high bill in EWON's experience)
Billing investigations may take time to resolve, so try to pay the part of the bill not in dispute. This will help you stay on top of your bills and show the retailer you are acting in good faith.
Delayed bill results in high bill for customer
Barbara did not receive an electricity account for twelve months and then received one for $2283, with fourteen days to pay. She was shocked at the amount and contacted her electricity provider to query why she had not received regular quarterly bills.
Barbara's provider explained that they manually check abnormally high accounts before sending them out. Barbara's account was overlooked in the manual checking process leading to a twelve-month delay in issuing her bill.
Barbara believed that if she had received regular bills she could have acted to reduce her electricity consumption.
The provider offered her twelve months to clear the debt but they were not prepared to reduce the amount owing. Barbara was not satisfied with the explanation, and contacted us to discuss her concerns and seek advice on her repayment options.
After an investigation the provider amended Barbara's account based on her electricity use for the same period for the previous year. Barbara's account was reduced by $660 and the provider offered nine months to pay. The provider agreed to review their systems relating to the non-issuing of accounts for customers in similar situations.
Supply disconnected following high bill and customer hardship
Robert is an aged pensioner who has had an account with his gas provider for 32 years. For ten years Robert's gas bills were consistently around $60 a quarter, so he was shocked to receive a bill for $300. He immediately contacted his provider to ask if a new gas meter they had recently installed caused the high bill.
After being asked to engage a licensed plumber to determine the cause, Robert told his provider that he could not afford to pay either the bill or a plumber. Robert asked his provider to disconnect the gas as they were not prepared to offer any further suggestions on how he could avoid future high bills.
After being without hot water or cooking facilities for two days Robert contacted us. He asked for advice on how to reduce his high consumption and for help in making arrangements to pay the $300 still outstanding.
Following contact from us, the provider arranged to test the meter and check for possible gas leaks. They discovered a major leak in the hot water system that probably caused the high bill. Due to Robert's situation, his provider offered to reduce the bill to $80. Robert appreciated the assistance and the amended bill.
Concealed leak results in high water bill
Stella's water bills are usually around $100. When Stella received a high bill, she asked a plumber to investigate the cause of the high usage. The plumber inspected the pipes and told Stella that he had fixed the problem. Three months later, Stella received another high water bill, bringing the total amount owed to $840.
When a second plumber found a concealed leak under her house, the provider offered to credit $300 to her account to help make repayment more manageable. Stella was not happy with this offer, as her pension would not cover the required repayments on the balance owing without placing her under significant financial strain. Stella felt she had done everything she could to address the problem, including calling out two plumbers.
After contacting her water provider three times to discuss the high bill, Stella's daughter contacted us for help negotiating a more acceptable arrangement. We spoke to the water provider to discuss the issues surrounding the concealed leak, and to inform them of Stella's financial situation. The provider was unaware of her situation and reviewed the charges. They found that as a pensioner Stella qualified for a financial hardship provision under their concealed leak policy. Her provider reduced the bill so it reflected Stella's usual water usage.
EWON can investigate a range of credit related issues including:
- difficulty negotiating an affordable payment plan
- denied an extension or instalment plan
- facing disconnection or restriction
- difficulty in getting reconnected
- difficulty locating Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers or Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) vouchers for water
- arrears, debt collection or credit default listing
If you are experiencing financial difficulty, we can negotiate a payment plan with your provider, refer you to community agencies that distribute EAPA or PAS vouchers and offer referral information about where to go for other types of assistance.
Some electricity providers in NSW operate special programs for customers experiencing financial hardship. These programs can offer payment arrangements, incentives for regular payments and exemptions from disconnection to eligible participants.
EWON helps customer disconnected for 12 months
When Larry contacted us he had been living without electricity for one week. Larry was unemployed and had experienced severe financial difficulty. Larry could not afford to pay his outstanding balance of $1200. Larry contacted his retailer to discuss the reconnection of his supply and offered to pay $50 per fortnight. Energy Australia declined Larry’s offer to pay due to his poor payment history.
Larry contacted us to discuss his situation and seek information on the options available to him
We referred Larry to community agencies that provide EAPA voucher assistance as the vouchers would assist the Larry with making an upfront payment on the account.
We discussed Larry’s situation with his provider and negotiated an affordable payment plan for Larry on the provider’s hardship program. We confirmed with the provider that Larry’s electricity usage was $42.00 per fortnight so the payment of $50.00 covered his usage and contributed $8.00 towards his arrears. Larry agreed to work with the provider’s hardship program on reducing his usage and contributing to the arrears when he has the capacity to do so.
Larry was able to arrange $400 in EAPA assistance. Following our assistance, Larry’s retailer raised the reconnection of the electricity supply and an affordable payment plan was established for Larry towards his electricity account.
EWON negotiates payment plan with water provider
Janette runs a small family business and receives a family allowance. Her partner has taken on a second job to help pay the bills and they have had to refinance their property due to financial difficulties.
With $635 outstanding on her account and an additional $739 owing for recent water use, Janette's provider restricted her water supply. When she contacted her water provider they informed her that she would have to pay $635 of this amount in full to have her water supply restored.
After arranging an appointment with a local community agency to get financial assistance she contacted us to help negotiate a payment plan and have her water supply restored. Janette contacted EWON to seek assistance in negotiating a payment plan and to have her water supply restored
We negotiated with her water provider for Janette to pay $500 over three weeks and then $50 every fortnight following to clear her arrears and keep up with her current water use.
Marketing or transfers
EWON has investigated a range of complaints which have resulted from the transfers of a customer’s account to a new retailer, including:
- misleading or deceptive conduct by a marketer
- non provision of information by a marketer – Including information regarding a customer’s cooling off rights or instances where cooling-off requests have not been actioned
- pressure to sign or agree to a contract by a marketer
- accounts transferred without an account holder's consent
- accounts transferred by a non-account holder
- accounts transferred in error
- delays in transferring an account
- transfer requests rejected by a retailer.
What can EWON do?
We can negotiate with your provider, review your contract conditions and provide advice and referral information.
When Cherie moved in to her new address six months ago, she asked her local electricity retailer to connect her power. She paid the bills as they came in, and was surprised to receive a letter from her retailer stating that they were sorry to hear that she had signed with another electricity retailer.
Cherie had not signed a new electricity contract, so she rang this new retailer for more information. They said that the previous tenant had signed a contract for the supply of electricity, so Cherie was obliged to honour the terms of that contract. Although she offered to forward a copy of her lease to prove she was not the tenant who signed the contract, the new retailer told her she had no choice but to honour the contract or pay a termination fee. Cherie did not think it was fair that she should have to pay a penalty for ending a contract that she was not a party to and contacted us for assistance.
We discovered that the previous tenant had signed a contract shortly before moving out. It had taken six months for the transfer process to be completed and now the site 'belonged' to the new retailer. Nevertheless, the new retailer acknowledged that the advice given to the customer was incorrect and she could not be forced to comply with a contract she had not signed. The retailer agreed to immediately transfer the customer back to Cherie's preferred retailer without charging a termination fee.
Customer’s electricity account transferred without consent
A marketer from ‘Retailer A’ came to Gayathri’s apartment while she was out and spoke to her cousin Henry. Henry was on day-release from a refugee detention centre and he spoke limited English.
The marketer advised Henry that ‘Retailer A’ was the new electricity retailer for the area, and that the form needed to be signed to ensure that Gayathri's electricity supply would continue. Henry signed the form the marketer gave him.
When Gayathri found out what had happened, she contacted her previous retailer to cancel the transfer request. She was told that it was too late as the transfer had been completed. Gayathri emailed her previous retailer, but she received no reply. Gayathri called her previous retailer, who referred her to us for help.
We contacted Gayathri's previous retailer who said the transfer had not been completed as yet and the account was still in her name. We contacted ‘Retailer A’ who agreed to cancel the transfer.
We advised Gayathri that we would be reporting the misleading marketing to the regulator.
EWON can help if you have a complaint about your electricity, gas or water connection – this could relate to problems experienced with getting a new connection or to an issue with an existing connection. We can investigate your complaint, try to negotiate between you and your supplier, provide new connection advice and referral information.
Please note the following:
New connections – Depending on where you live, and whether you are classified as an urban or rural customer, or a developer, you may be liable for the costs of connecting or extending the network to your property, and ongoing maintenance or upgrade costs
New connections – In areas where supply is not currently available, you may have to pay for the costs of extending the existing network to your property. If the new connection requires a main road to be excavated to connect your property to the gas mains under the street, this can incur additional charges.
Unwanted existing connections – If you have a gas connection but are no longer using gas and want to avoid liability for any Service Available Charge (SAC) from a retailer, your options depend on whether you are a tenant or a home owner.
Tenants: From 31 January 2011, the landlord is now responsible for paying the supply fee in these circumstances. It is now a term of the Standard Form Agreement that the landlord agrees to pay all charges for the availability of gas to the residential premises if the tenant does not use gas supplied to the premises for any purpose.
Home owners have two options available:
Permanent disconnection: In this case the actual meter is left on the site but is disconnected. The gas distributor continues to read the meter for safety, however, the meter is removed from the market and no SAC is applied. The gas can be reconnected at a later time by contacting a retailer to establish an account. This will then generates a service order to have the site reconnected. Charges apply.
Decommissioning or relinquishing a site: In this case the supply is disconnected and the meter is removed. The meter is then deactivated in the market and no SAC is applied. If you wish to connect gas at the property in the future, you will need to apply for a brand new connection.
Please note that charges apply for permanent disconnection and decommissioning, however, permanent disconnection is the cheaper option and is more easily reversible.
New connections – For new developments and connections you may have to pay a developer charge, which can sometimes run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Water rates charged before the connection was complete
Denise is building a duplex with another party. Although they have received a strata title classification, the units are not completed and the water is not connected to the property. As such, Denise feels that the water company should not have started charging them for water and sewerage service availability.
Denise contacted her supplier to discuss her concerns and was told that she was liable for the service charges and the supplier had already commenced debt recovery action for the $225 owed to them in charges. Denise contacted EWON to clarify the basis for these charges.
EWON discussed the matter with the supplier. After visiting the site, the supplier agreed that the information Denise had been given was incorrect. They reversed all service charges and confirmed that they would not bill Denise again until construction of the units was completed.
Gas connection charges reduced
Frank contacted his retailer for a gas connection. As it was a non-standard connection, the retailer told him there would be an additional delay in arranging for the connection. He was also quoted $1540 for traffic management costs as he resides on an RTA road, and this would need to be excavated to carry out his connection. However, when the field officers from the gas network company came to the property on the day prior to the installation, they noted that the gas main runs down a side street and that it would not be necessary to come in from the main road.
Frank contacted his retailer to complain that they should have known all along that the mains ran up the side street, which would have reduced the delay, and should also reduce the costs of the traffic management. The retailer said they couldn’t help him, as they were not the owner of the infrastructure, although they had organised for the distributor to carry out the connection.
Frank made a complaint to EWON and following our investigation, the gas network company agreed to waive part of the connection charge.
A tree breaks the overhead power lines to a terrace house
Edwin has a power pole at the front of his house that is very close to a tree. One day a branch fell off the tree and cut the cable that supplies electricity to his house and to several neighbouring properties. The distributor installed a temporary cable to provide emergency power to the properties. Following this they sent Defect Notices to the owners, stating that the temporary cable needed to be replaced with a permanent cable and the work must be undertaken at the owner’s expense. The distributor provided a quote for $1925.00 to undertake the work.
As the tree was on Council land, Edwin had contacted the Council for assistance, but they referred him to his insurance company. The insurance company advised that he that he would need to pay the excess and this would also affect his no claim bonus.
Edwin came to EWON to confirm whether he was in fact responsible for replacing the cable. We explained that while the property owner is responsible for the maintenance of his own service lines, the distributor is responsible for the overhead mains from the network to the first point of attachment on the property (in this case on the bargeboard).
EWON discussed Edwin's installation with the distributor who revised their initial decision and installed a permanent replacement at no cost to Edwin.
EWON can investigate complaints about:
- the placement and maintenance of network assets
- health and safety concerns about any aspect of the network
- damage to private property caused by network operations
- vegetation management around power lines
- the right to acquire easements over private land for network purposes
Distributor plans substation outside customer's property
Helen was concerned about the installation of a kiosk type substation near her property. The distributor had notified her of their intentions by letter and she submitted an objection. Helen then observed that the site has been marked out for the erection of the kiosk and became concerned about the aesthetic impact on her property.
Helen submitted a complaint to us and our investigation indicated that the network operator had complied with all the necessary regulations, including the NSW Electricity Supply Act, the NSW State Environment Planning Policy (Infrastructure) (SEPP) and the applicable network standard.
Routine maintenance goes wrong
A distributor carried out routine maintenance work on the water mains in a street near Paula's house. An error was made which resulted in Paula's house being deluged with sewage. Paula could not reach agreement with the distributor about the extent of the damage to her property and she made a complaint to us.
Following our investigation the distributor accepted liability and arranged to accommodate Paula and her family in a hotel while the spill was cleaned. Paula's insurance company paid for the replacement of the carpet and damaged furniture.
Negotiations fall down during an easement acquisition
A distributor planned to run a new 66kV distribution line and required an easement creation over the full length of the southern boundary of Richard's property. The distributor offered Richard $57,500 and advised him that if he didn’t sign the agreement, they would compulsorily acquire the land.
The planned easement required trees to be removed and Richard advised the distributor that he still would need shade for his cattle. The distributor offered to provide shade shelters for the cattle and replace some of the fencing and trees.
Richard agreed with their proposed compensation however the distributor later retracted their offer, advising him they would no longer replace the trees. Richard was concerned about losing his trees and contacted us for help.
We discussed Richard's complaint with the distributor who acknowledged their miscommunication. The distributor apologised in writing to Richard and advised him that they had initiated a review of their internal processes. They reimbursed all Richard's out of pocket expenses relating to the matter, including his solicitor's fees, and applied a $500 goodwill credit to his account to try to restore a more constructive relationship with him.
EWON can investigate complaints about land and supply issues, including:
- the quality of the electricity, gas and water supply
- damage or loss as a result of an event on the network
Concerns about the quality of supply can include electricity voltage variations and low gas pressure. We have received complaints about the taste or colour of drinking water and these concerns may be referred to NSW Health. Interruptions to supply can occur as a normal part of the network’s operation, and usually only cause minor inconvenience to customers. However if you believe your provider was responsible for damage to your property or household appliances, loss of food or any other loss, contact your provider first to discuss the event. Generally, your provider will ask you fill out a form or submit your claim in writing. If you are not satisfied with your provider's response, you can ask us to review your case.
Low gas pressure interfered with use of gas appliances
Cynthia experiences an intermittent gas supply which prevents her from using her gas heater during winter and causes interruption to her hot water service. When she first noticed the problem Cynthia engaged a private plumber who was unable to locate any leaks or corrosion that could indicate a cause for the low pressure inside her house. Cynthia also contacted her retailer several times to report her concerns and although technicians had come to inspect her supply on several occasions, they had been unable to identify a problem. Cynthia was not satisfied with her retailer's response and contacted us for assistance.
During our investigation, the distributor measured the gas pressure coming in to the property at the meter. The results showed that there was no issue with a pressure at that point. , This indicated a possible problem with Cynthia's installation. We advised Cynthia of the information provided by the distributor and Cynthia engaged another plumber to check her appliances. The plumber discovered that the regulator built in to the gas oven had disintegrated and once this was replaced, the gas pressure returned to normal.
Power interruption beyond the distributor's control
Stephen experienced a power outage of approximately one hour, after which his house alarm no longer worked. He submitted a claim to the distributor however they denied his claim and he lodged a complaint with us.
Our investigation established that the outage was the result of a motor vehicle hitting a power pole and NSW Police confirmed they had a record of this. We advised Stephen that it appeared that the event was beyond the reasonable control of the distributor and he can consider approaching his insurance company for assistance. .
Customer claims for computer damage following blackout
Celine was using her computer when a blackout occurred. When power was restored, her computer no longer worked. She took it to a repairer, who advised that the computer was beyond repair and that she should consider buying a new computer. Celine submitted a claim to the distributor for the cost of a new computer. The distributor denied Celine's claim and she contacted EWON in relation to the matter.
Our investigation indicated that the outage was the result of an automated protection operation on the network which was triggered by a possum coming into contact with the power lines. The distributor advised us that this is a routine safety function which typically does not adversely affect household appliances.
Given the circumstances, we concluded that the distributor’s denial of Celine's claim appeared reasonable. We recommended that Celine approach her insurance company. We also recommended that she considers installing equipment such a surge protector.
Change in policy about planned electricity outages
Joe lives in a rural area and is accustomed to two or three planned power outages per year. The distributor in his area would contact him about the outages, allowing him time to prepare and work around them. However his distributor's recent change of policy meant that he would no longer be personally notified about planned outages.
He contacted his distributor to discuss his concerns but was informed that the notification service was no longer part of their business operations. Joe had several discussions with the distributor but was not satisfied with their response and made a complaint to us.
We contacted the distributor who advised that they had changed their policy. The distributor now advertises planned interruptions in the local newspaper as the population in the area had expanded and they considered it was no longer feasible to do a letter drop or contact individuals by phone.
Following further consultation with us, the distributor agreed that their policy needed to be amended to incorporate advance warning of the outages to rural customers in similar situations to Joe.
Distributor delay leaves customer without gas
Daniel relies on gas for his cooking and hot water. Over the period of a month, Daniel experienced four gas outages. Each time he contacted the gas provider, they visited the following day, inspected the pipes and told him that there was water trapped inside the gas pipes under his street and they would fix the problem.
After the fourth outage, Daniel was without gas for two days. As the repairers had not arrived and the gas provider had not returned his call, he contacted us for assistance.
We contacted his provider who confirmed that the problem was related to a water leak in the gas pipe that supplies Daniel's property.
The provider organised for urgent repairs and the pipes were fixed within two days. They credited Daniel's account with $48 for the supply fees from the previous quarter, in recognition of the outages he had suffered and the extended delay in repairing the pipe.
EWON receives a range of complaints from customers about the Solar Bonus Scheme arrangements and the installation of solar panels.
What we can investigate:
- billing delays
- application of the feed-in tariff
- meter problems
Closure of the Scheme
The NSW Solar Bonus Scheme will come to an end on 31 December 2016. This will affect around 146,000 households and small businesses who have been participating in the Scheme.
If you are a customer of the Scheme, after 31 December 2016 you will no longer receive a subsidised feed-in tariff. After this date you can access the same market offers for unsubsidised feed-in tariffs that are available to all other solar customers.
Now is a good time to check that you are on the best deal with your provider and, depending on the offer you choose, to investigate metering options.
Some complaints are out-of-jurisdiction and we will generally refer customers to the appropriate agency, for example:
Who to speak to
NSW Solar Scheme Bonus or level of tariff
Misleading marketing regarding the solar product or work commissioned
Contractor or installation problems, quality of work or compliance issues
Where to find an accredited installer
- Solar battery systems are an increasingly popular way for NSW homes to store the energy their solar panels generate. The NSW Home Solar Battery Guide can help you decide if battery storage is right for you.
Common hot water
If you live in a strata block of units and your hot water is supplied from a gas or electric hot water system that is located in a common area of the building and also supplies other units, this is known as a 'common hot water system'.
For customers with common hot water systems, energy retailers calculate customers’ bills by reconciling the amount of cold water supplied to the hot water system, the amount of energy used to heat the water, the number of units drawing from the system and the amount of hot water drawn by each unit, as registered by each unit’s hot water meter.
If some of the units in a strata block are unoccupied for a long period of time, the cost per unit for the common hot water system will be higher than when the block is fully occupied.
Can EWON investigate complaints about common hot water systems?
We can investigate billing disputes about customers’ hot water consumption charges where a gas or electricity common hot water system is installed. Customers should contact their provider to try and resolve the problem first.
However, we cannot investigate a complaint about:
- the efficiency, age or condition of the hot water system itself
- the occupancy rate of the dwelling
- action or inaction of a strata corporation, property manager or landlord (eg. refusal to engage a licenced plumber to inspect the hot water system)
If your complaint involves strata corporations or tenant/landlord issues, you can contact the NSW Fair Trading.
EWON has assisted a range of customers including small businesses, educational institutions, strata corporations and not-for-profit organisations. Many of the complaints we receive from business customers relate to billing and contracts. We have also assisted customers with disputes involving their classification as a large retail customer.
As our Constitution does not limit the type of customer who can submit a complaint, we assess each matter on a case-by-case basis.
When determining whether we are able to assist a business customer, we will consider:
- whether they consume more or less than 100 MWh electricity or 1,000 gigajoules (Gj) gas per year
- the number of staff employed
- the annual turnover of the business
- the capacity of the organisation to seek redress without EWON’s assistance
For example, we may be able to assist a business customer who is a large energy or water consumer, but in terms of staff numbers, they fall within the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of a small business (ie. up to 20 staff).
Retailer applies credit adjustment after incorrectly invoicing customer
John signed a new energy contract for his small business. For the first few months John's bills were similar to previous bills but after that, John found his bills increased dramatically. He noted that the daily service availability charge increased from 65 cents to $8, which meant that around 55% of his bill related to network charges.
John contacted his retailer about the high bill and they told him they were passing on the network charges.
He asked the retailer to explain the increase in writing but they refused and told him to pay the account or face disconnection. John wasn't satisfied with their response and contacted us for assistance.
We explained to John that the retailer did not set the network charge and they passed this on to customers according to the regulated tariff. While we could not investigate the charge itself, we could check that the appropriate tariff had been applied to his account.
We reviewed John's bills which showed that the annual consumption for his business was under 100MWh, which classified him as a small retail customer. We noted however, that the tariff John was being charged was much higher and was appropriate for a large retail customer. We contacted the distributor for the area who advised that as 12 months of billing data was available, John could request that his site be reassessed to determine whether he was a large or small retail customer, however any reassessment would not be retrospective.
We discussed this with the retailer who organised for John's account to be reclassified as a small retail customer.
The retailer then recalculated John's previous bills based on the reduced network tariffs which resulted in a credit adjustment of $4,159 on his account.
Small business owner faces payment difficulty
Robin owns and operates a laundromat. Following an injury, he has only been able to work part time and has been experiencing some financial problems.
Robin contacted his electricity and gas provider to request a six-instalment payment plan to cover the $2,250 owing on his account and a waiver of late fees. His requests were declined. When he called a second time to discuss the late fees, he was advised his accounts were scheduled for disconnection. Robin contacted us for assistance.
We spoke to Robin’s retailer, who put his account on hold, agreed to waive the late fees and accepted Robin’s proposed six-part payment over three months.
From 1 July 2014 the NSW Government removed regulation of NSW retail electricity prices, to promote market competition. Prior to this, prices were regulated by IPART. Electricity prices are now set by the retailers; for customers on standing offers, retailers can only change prices once every six months. For customers on market offers, frequency of price changes will depend on the terms of the contract.
IPART sets the average regulated price for gas, and customers can choose between a standard supply contract or a market contract. You can learn more about how IPART sets gas prices here.
EWON has no role or authority in setting prices. While this means we are not able to investigate complaints about price increases, we can review whether charges and tariffs have been correctly applied to an account. So, if you have received a high bill that you consider does not accurately reflect your usage and your retailer is either not able to explain it or you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact us for assistance.
How are energy prices determined?
The deregulation of the electricity industry means prices are set by the retailers and consumers are able to choose the best offer available. From 1 July 2014, customers who were on a standard contract with regulated tariffs were moved over to a transitional tariff which will be available for two years from that date.
IPART, utility companies and consumer groups regularly put in submissions presenting their view about any price increase. EWON's submissions are available here.
EWON also has regular contact with government agencies and regulators about issues arising from customer complaints. Where these complaints indicate that pricing is a concern, this issue is raised and highlighted.
Energy charges on your bills
The tariff you see on your electricity or gas bill reflects the retailer’s costs of supplying the electricity or gas to you, which include:
- the costs of purchasing wholesale electricity or gas
- the cost of transporting it through the transmission and distribution networks (note that network charges are set separately by the Australian Energy Regulator)
- the retail operating costs such as billing and operating call centres
Retail tariffs comprise both fixed and variable charges:
- The variable component is applied to the amount of electricity or gas you use. Electricity is expressed in cents per kilowatt hour. This will vary each quarter, depending on your consumption.
- The service availability charge (electricity) or supply charge (gas) is expressed in cents per day. This represents the fixed charges the network incurs, (for example meter readings, maintaining the poles and wires/pipes, vegetation management, maintaining a call centre) regardless of how much energy the customer uses. Every customer pays this service availability/supply charge, even if they have consumed little or no energy at all that quarter.
What should you be paying?
How much you pay for electricity or gas each quarter depends on how much energy you have consumed and the tariff you are charged.
The retail tariff you are charged will depend on the type of contract you have with your retailer.
- Customers on a standard retail contract: Domestic electricity customers who open an account at a site without a previous connection can be supplied on a standard retail contract with the standard retailer for their geographic area. Customers who open an account at a site where there is an existing connection can be supplied on a standard form contract by the retailer who currently supplies the site. In both cases, customers are charged tariffs set by that retailer. Standing offer rates are available on retailer websites.
- Customers on a negotiated/market contract: As the retail energy market is competitive, different retailers can charge different tariffs. Each retailer offers a variety of contracts and they may introduce new offers or deals at any time. Contracts contain various terms and conditions such as the duration of the contract, the duration of benefits such as discounts, and fees that may apply.
- Small business customers typically consume more energy than a standard domestic customer. If they consume more than 100,000 kWh electricity per year or 1 terrajoule of gas per year they are required to enter into a negotiated contract where the tariff is not regulated.
For more information on regulated retail pricing in NSW visit www.ipart.nsw.gov.au
For more information on national regulation visit www.aer.gov.au
Embedded networks are private electricity networks that serve multiple premises through a transmission system with one ‘parent connection point’ in the National Electricity Market. The operators of embedded networks, known as exempt sellers, pay to receive energy from the grid and then onsell the energy back to the individual customers.
Embedded network examples are found in residential parks, caravan parks, retirement villages, apartment blocks and shopping centres. Find out if your energy seller is authorised by checking the AER's public register of authorised retailers.
Protections for embedded network customers
The AER outlines that customer protections for residents in residential strata, retirement villages, caravan parks and residential parks include:
- Flexible payment options if you are experiencing financial difficulty
- Clear and set time frames for receiving and paying bills
- Complaints handling arrangements
- Energy charges that are no greater than the standing offer prices a local area retailer can charge contracted customers
- Clear and reasonable disconnection procedures
All NSW energy rebates are now available to eligible customers in exempt networks. If you are a customer of an exempt seller visit the Department of Industry, Resources and Energy website to see if you're eligible and how to apply.
Retail or commercial customers
Protections for retail and commercial customers, including small businesses operating in shopping centres, are outlined by the AER as:
- Clear and reasonable disconnection procedures
- Clear and set time frames for receiving and paying bills
- Energy charges that are no greater than the standing offer prices a local area retailer can, in certain circumstances, charge their customers (only small retail and commercial customers without cost-effective access to a choice of retailer)
- Complaints handling requirements
How EWON helps embedded network customers
We have jurisdiction to receive and investigate complaints from embedded network customers, however, exempt sellers are not required to be members of EWON. This means that while we can handle and generally resolve complaints about exempt sellers, currently those who are not members of EWON are not bound by our decisions. We made recommendations in a recent submission to the AER and we anticipate the release of its updated (Retail) Exempt Seller Guideline later this year.
Customers in embedded networks can find more information on the AER's website.
Out of jurisdiction
We can't investigate complaints about private contractors (electricians, plumbers and gas fitters). This includes contracting arms of electricity, gas and water providers where the work is open to competitive quotation. If your problem relates to a private contractor, contact Fair Trading NSW.
Tariff or price increases
We can't investigate complaints about energy and water price increases. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal reviews electricity, water and gas pricing in NSW. EWON does not set tariffs and charges, but can check if these charges have been applied correctly. Further information is available on the AER's website.
We can provide advice to tenants on high bills caused by a fixed appliance (eg hot water heater) but we do not resolve disputes with landlords. Advice in relation to these matters can be obtained from Fair Trading NSW or Tenants NSW.
Complaints about LPG (bottled gas) providers are out of our jurisdiction. Please contact NSW Fair Trading for assistance with LPG complaints.
Power of Choice reforms
From 4 December 2017, all new electricity meters installed for residential and small business customers need to be advanced digital meters (sometimes called ‘smart’ meters). The older-style basic or accumulation meters will be phased out and replaced with digital meters over time.
This rule change came out of the Australian Energy Market Commission’s Power of Choice review of the National Energy Market. It is aimed at giving customers more control over their electricity use by giving them access to new products and services.
What does this mean for customers?
- Energy retailers are now responsible for installing meters for residential and small business customers, not distributors as it was before 4 December 2017.
- Digital meters will become part of any new arrangement a customer has with their retailer, such as when a customer purchases an energy service that requires a new meter.
- Digital meters will be installed whenever new or replacement meters are required.
- Retailers may roll out digital meters to individual or groups of customers, but customers may choose to opt out if their current meter is working provided they haven’t signed a contract stipulating otherwise.
More frequent usage data
Digital meters provide information about electricity usage at least every half hour. This gives customers the opportunity to monitor their usage easily and potentially make changes to reduce their use.
No more estimated usage readings
Digital meters can be read remotely, which means the end of estimated reads that happen when a meter reader cannot physically read the meter for whatever reason.
Choose how often you get your bills
Since meters can be read remotely, customers can request bills monthly, instead of quarterly. This makes budgeting easier and gives customers the opportunity to reduce their usage more quickly if they receive a higher than expected bill.
Faster switching and transfers
Digital meters also have the potential to make it quicker and easier to switch retailers and disconnect and reconnect when customer move house. However, the NSW Government has placed a temporary moratorium on remote connections and disconnections because of safety concerns.
Things to be aware of
Time of Use (TOU) tariffs
Digital meters allow retailers to introduce TOU charges. Customers who are able to choose when to use appliances and other devices that use a lot of energy are likely to be better off on a TOU tariff, but others may not be. Customers do not have to go onto a TOU contract just because they have a digital meter.
Mobile signal needed for remote connections
Digital meters use the mobile phone network to transmit a signal. This means that customers who live in an area with weak or no mobile signal may not be able to get the advantages of remote reads and automatic connections and disconnections when they become available.
For more informations about the Power of Choice reforms visit the AER website.