Lockdown energy debt could lead to spike in complaints

19 October 2021: The Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) Annual Report 2020/2021, released today, reports 16,064 complaints received in 2020/2021, a 17% decrease compared with 2019/2020.  

The introduction of the AER Statement of Expectations in March 2020, which protected energy consumers from disconnection, debt collection and credit listing during COVID-19 lockdowns played a key role in supporting consumers and reducing EWON complaints. 

Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW, Janine Young said she expects now that NSW’s lockdown has eased, complaints to EWON will increase as customers find themselves dealing with accrued energy debt and reduced income. 

“The AER’s Statement of Expectations has been a success in keeping vulnerable customers connected to essential services during the pandemic, but unfortunately customers are still accruing debt, so we expect complaints to increase when support measures are wound back,” Ms Young said. 

“We strongly encourage all energy and water providers to acknowledge the difficulties faced by many customers. Retailers need to continue making affordable payment plans available to prevent disconnections,” Ms Young said. 

“We also encourage consumers to reach out to their energy and water providers – all of them have affordability programs which will help consumers facing affordability challenges and prevent them from disconnection.” 

Billing complaints continued to be the most significant issue raised by consumers in NSW — present in 68% of all complaints. Billing issues include high and estimated bills, errors, and problems with opening and closing accounts. 

Customer service including failure to respond, incorrect advice or information, and failure to consult or inform customers was the second most prevalent issue accounting for 33% of all complaints. 

The third most significant complaint issue related to credit issues. These affordability related issues, include disconnection, arrears, payment difficulty, payment arrangement declined, and debt collection were present in 16% of complaints.   

Electricity accounted for 77% of total complaints and gas 18%. Complaints about water continued to be very low at just 4% of all complaints.  

To speak with the Ombudsman, please contact: Jacqui Heywood, Communications Officer jacquelineh@ewon.com or 0426 822 341.