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.
High bills and disputed accounts
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.
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) credits 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 came to an end on 31 December 2016. This affected around 146,000 households and small businesses who were 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).
An increasing amount of NSW electricity consumers receive their energy within an embedded network, managed by an exempt entity.
If you live in a residential complex, residential park or a retirement village where electricity is supplied via an embedded network, you will be billed for usage by the owner or manager, who is the exempt seller of the electricity.
EWON can help electricity consumers who are billed by an exempt seller instead of an authorised electricity retailer, providing your electricity supply is individually metered.
Matters that we can investigate include:
- disputed accounts
- fees and charges
- disconnection of supply
- quality of supply
Our investigations staff can:
- review the circumstances that led to the complaint
- provide you with information about how and what you should be charged
- try to negotiate a settlement between you and your provider
- refer you to appropriate organisations that may be able to help with your complaint
- suggest other ways of resolving the dispute, if necessary.
We will not contact an exempt seller unless you give us the authority to do so.
Protections for embedded network customers
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) guidelines outline customer protections for residents in residential strata, retirement villages, caravan parks and residential parks. They 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 embedded networks. If you are a customer of an exempt entity visit powertosave.nsw.gov.au to see if you're eligible and how to apply.
Retail or commercial customers
The AER guidelines outline protections for retail and commercial customers, including small businesses operating in shopping centres, and include:
- 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)
- complaint handling requirements.
How EWON helps embedded network customers
EWON’s jurisdiction allows us to receive and investigate complaints from embedded network customers, however currently, exempt entities are not members of EWON.
In March 2018 the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released revised Network Service Provider Registration Exemption Guideline and Retail Exemption Selling Guideline requiring exempt networks and exempt sellers servicing residential customers to become members of EWON. This change means that we will continue to resolve complaints from residential customers about exempt entities and that as members of EWON they will be bound by our decisions.
Are you an exempt entity who might need to join EWON? See exempt entities.
All new electricity meters installed for residential and small business customers in NSW need to be advanced digital meters (sometimes called ‘smart’ meters). The older-style non-digital 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 (AEMC) 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.
For more information on the new metering installation timeframe, visit the AEMC website.
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 information about the metering reforms visit the AER website.
Out of jurisdiction
We can't investigate complaints about private contractors engaged by the customer (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.
We can provide advice to tenants about high bills caused by a fixed appliance (eg hot water heater) but we do not resolve disputes with landlords. Advice about these issues is available from Fair Trading NSW or Tenants NSW.
Complaints about LPG (bottled gas) providers are out of our jurisdiction. Please contact Fair Trading NSW for assistance with LPG complaints.
Electricity prices are set by the retailers. Frequency of price changes will depend on the terms of your contract.
EWON has no role or authority in setting prices. 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. If you receive a bill that you consider does not accurately reflect your usage, and your retailer is not able to explain it or you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact us for assistance.
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 includes:
- the costs of purchasing wholesale electricity or gas
- the cost of transporting it through the transmission and distribution networks (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 (kWh) and gas in cents per megajoule (MJ). This will vary each quarter, depending on your usage.
- The supply charge is expressed in cents per day. This represents the fixed charges the retailer and network incur, (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 supply charge, even if they have consumed little or no energy at all.
What should you be paying?
How much you pay for electricity or gas each quarter depends on how much energy you 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 market contract: As the retail energy market is competitive, retailers 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, and the period benefits such as discounts, and any fees, apply to.
- Customers on a standing offer contract: Domestic electricity customers who don’t opt for a market contract will be supplied on a standing offer contract with the retailer who has the billing rights for the site. Customers who open an account at a site where there is an existing connection can be supplied by the retailer who currently supplies the site or their chosen retailer. In both cases, customers are encouraged to contact the retailer to discuss the tariff as standing offer rates may be higher than market contract rates. Standing offer rates are available on retailer websites.
- 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 ‘large market’ contract. Large market contracts do not have the consumer protections available to customers who use less energy. It is therefore important to fully understand the terms and conditions of the contract.
The Australian Energy Regulator maintains a free comparator website energymadeeasy.gov.au where customers compare offers from electricity and gas retailers. You can also visit the NSW Government's free Energy Switch site to compare electricity plans and receive help to switch.