Expanding awareness of our services for consumers and their advocates is one of our three key Charter responsibilities.
Community outreach is a significant part of our awareness raising and stakeholder and consumer engagement activities. It provides a platform to promote our services by attracting media coverage and expanding knowledge of our services in particular geographic areas, and amongst target groups. It is also a critical element for our promotion of energy and water business complaint handling processes and financial affordability programs.
Our community engagement program also provides the opportunity to build and expand relationships with other organisations and to tap into their networks so we can promote our services. It increases EWON’s accessibility by offering another avenue for consumers to engage with us. Outreach activities help us educate consumers, community workers and small businesses about energy and water issues. Importantly, it also provides us with an opportunity to learn about the issues affecting consumers firsthand. EWON shares this knowledge with providers, offering the opportunity to reduce the number of complaints coming to EWON.
We engage with a variety of consumers, community workers and small business with a focus on reaching vulnerable groups and those experiencing hardship, including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- People with disabilities
- People living on fixed and/or low incomes
EWON assists small businesses with a range of issues including billing and contract issues and disputes, including their retail classification as large or small energy users. When this is incorrect, it result in significantly higher energy costs. However, only a small number of small business customers access our services. To increase awareness of EWON amongst small businesses, we attend targeted events and work with organisations with strong links to the sector.
This year, we developed a new factsheet for small business customers. We engage with small business owners through business forums and expos, as well as through trader walks, where we visit individual retail shops to offer information about energy and water issues and discuss how we can assist them.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers
Our engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is driven by the significant disadvantage faced by these communities, and higher than average household electricity disconnection. This work is led by our Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer, who establishes and strengthens links with communities, their leaders and the agencies and services that work with them.
Billing and affordability issues continue to be the main reasons Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers come to EWON, with 33% of issues received in 2017/2018 relating to billing, and 30% to credit, including disconnection, debt collection and default listing. Of the 793 complainants who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander:
- 183 reported payment difficulties
- 105 reported high bills
- 73 had been disconnected or were facing disconnection
- 58 had faced debt collection.
Many customers experienced a combination of these issues. Around 20% of these complaints came from outer Sydney, 15% from inner Sydney, 4% from Sydney surrounds and 61% came from regional areas of NSW.
Community workers are an important link between EWON and consumers experiencing financial vulnerability. They can also act as advocates for many customers who require support when seeking assistance from energy and water providers or EWON. In 2017/2018, we collaborated with a number of community organisations, with a particular focus on community and Aboriginal housing organisations. Read more about this work on page 61.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) customers
Our commitment to strengthening consumer protections includes making sure we raise awareness of our services amongst diverse communities. We want to ensure all consumers have access to our resources, so we work with community workers, interpreters and bilingual staff, using translated factsheets and plain English presentations to break down barriers associated with language and low literacy.
Seniors often tell us they struggle to understand the complex nature of the energy and water industries, particularly billing and new and emerging technology. We find that older people are often concerned about energy affordability and may not be aware of concessions and rebates available to them. They also may avoid using heating and cooking appliances to reduce their consumption – often at risk to their health. Presentations to Probus Groups are one way we connect directly with seniors and we encourage them to share information about EWON with their friends and families.
People with disabilities
We presented at a number of information sessions organised by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal disability organisations working with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The presentations aim to increase awareness of EWON’s services amongst community workers who work with people with a
disability with support packages under the NDIS. EWON’s Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer attended and participated in information sessions and Making Links days to help raise EWON’s profile in the disability sector. Events took place in the Sydney area and far west NSW.
Broader community disability events that EWON participated in during 2017/2018 included:
- South West Disability Expo
- Sutherland Carer Forum
- Sydney Disability Expo
- Penrith Disability Forum
- Multicultural Disability Service Campbelltown
We continue to deliver training about energy and water issues in collaboration with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre to community workers in the disability and aged care sectors.
Anti-Poverty Week forums
EWON has held Anti-Poverty Week forums for community workers for 12 consecutive years. In 2016 we went one step further and held two forums – a metropolitan forum in Campbelltown and a regional forum in Lismore. These forums raised awareness of energy affordability issues affecting consumers, gave EWON an opportunity to speak directly with community workers and learn about issues affecting their clients. Our ongoing theme is that ‘Poverty will not be alleviated until energy is affordable for all Australians’.
Eighty people attended the Campbelltown forum and mini expo. The forum featured speakers from the Financial Rights Legal Centre, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and Legal Aid, as well energy and water providers. Exhibitors included other Ombudsman services, government agencies and community organisations.
The Lismore forum attracted 30 community workers from across the Northern Rivers region and provided an important opportunity to expand our network in a regional area that experiences high levels of homelessness and other disadvantage. This forum was opened by the Deputy Mayor Gianpiero Battista and speakers included representatives from the State Debt Recovery Office, local community groups and energy and water providers.
Bring Your Bills Days
EWON started hosting Bring Your Bills days many years ago and they have grown, both in strategic approach and consumer attendance, over the years. These events offer face-to-face support for customers, as well as access to a range of other government and community services. They act as a ‘one stop shop’, targeting customers experiencing affordability issues.
At our Bring Your Bills days, our Investigations Officers, often aided by interpreters, listen to customers’ concerns, review their energy and water bills, and liaise with providers over the phone to resolve issues. The customer’s involvement in the process often empowers them to again contact their provider directly, which allows complaints to be resolved collaboratively and quickly. Both providers and customers benefit from the constructive engagement and the quick resolution of issues that these events offer.
In 2017/2018 we further strengthened the Bring Your Bills concept by inviting energy and water retailers to attend a Payment Assistance Day in Mt Druitt in Sydney’s west, so that they could meet with customers face-to-face in their communities. We also partnered with Hunter Water to deliver Bring Your Bills days across the Hunter region in collaboration with:
- Rutherford Community Centre Maitland
- Belmont Neighbourhood Centre
- Tomaree Neighbourhood Centre in Salamander Bay.
We also collaborated with Origin Energy in remote Aboriginal communities. See page 61 for more information about this unique project.
Our Bring Your Bills days provide consumers with the opportunity to meet with us in a forum that welcomes them and provides both the space and time to sit down and help people understand how to read their bills, explain what assistance is available and how to save energy and water. This early involvement aims to prevent future problems like debt, credit listing and energy disconnection or water restriction.
Presentations and forums
We accept invitations from organisations to present to their staff, clients, members and other stakeholders. As part of Anti-Poverty Week, we also organise our own forums for community workers that focus on the needs of low income and disadvantaged consumers.
We held monthly events at SydWest Multicultural Services in Blacktown, at Anglicare Mt Druitt for the early part of 2017/2018 and with St Vincent de Paul Mt Druitt during the later part of 2017/2018. We also scheduled Bring Your Bills days in other areas where we identified a need through our complaint handling work or at the request of community agencies.
EWON’s Community Engagement Officers attend inter-agency meetings that bring together services in particular areas and/or focus on particular communities.
The Joint Outreach Initiative Network (JOIN) has been managed by EWON for over 12 years. It brings together outreach staff from complaint handling agencies across NSW to share information and resources and explore opportunities for shared initiatives.
There are 55 members representing 25 organisations. This year, meetings were hosted by Diversity Services, Legal Aid NSW, NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Koori inter-agency meetings provide support and assistance to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the Sydney metropolitan area.
Agency representatives come together to provide a proactive forum which explores the very specific needs and issues that relate to the local Koori communities and jointly deliver practical solutions to meet those needs. The meetings provide attendees with the opportunity to support each other and share both good experiences and new opportunities.
Anti-Poverty Week forums
EWON has held Anti-Poverty Week forums for the past 13 years. In 2016, we began holding two forums, a metropolitan and regional based forum rather than alternating between each. In 2017, our first forum was in Penrith on 17 October followed by one in Wagga Wagga on 14 November.
The forums aim to make community workers aware of EWON’s services, as well as the government, community and member energy and water affordability initiatives available to support consumers.
Eighty-three people attended the Penrith forum and mini expo. It was opened by the Mayor of Penrith City Council, Councillor, John Thain and featured speakers from EnergyAustralia, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. Fourteen organisations had stalls at the forum, including AGL, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, the Australian Energy Regulator, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman and Sydney Water.
The Wagga Wagga forum attracted community workers from across the Riverina region and was opened by the Mayor of Wagga Wagga, Greg Conkey. Forty people attended the event with seven exhibitors. Speakers included representatives from Revenue NSW, local community groups and energy and water providers.
A panel of energy experts also shared details of new State Government initiatives to help consumers facing energy hardship. Exhibitors included the Australian Energy Regulator, Legal Aid NSW, Revenue NSW, NSW Fair Trading and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy.
Training and educational initiatives
EWON develops and delivers energy and water training. We work with community workers and other organisations to inform them about issues relating to energy and water, as well as the actions consumers can take to reduce their energy usage and manage hardship.
Tenants in public and private housing have limited control over the energy and water efficiency of their homes, which can lead to high bills. Their homes often have poor insulation, problems with common hot water systems and inefficient lighting and appliances.
In 2017/2018 EWON partnered with community and Aboriginal housing providers on two key initiatives to assist tenants.
Aboriginal housing partnership
In 2017/2018 EWON continued working with the Tenant Support and Education Project (TSEP), funded by the Aboriginal Housing Office.
This project comes from a unique partnership between Coonamble Local Aboriginal Land Council, Mid Lachlan Aboriginal Housing Management Co-operative and Murdi Paaki Regional Housing Corporation.
EWON delivered Power and Water Usage Workshops and Bring Your Bills days. The workshops were tailored to Aboriginal communities in remote and regional NSW and focused on saving energy and water around the home and help for tenants experiencing difficulties with their electricity bills. Some of the events also included a Family Fun Day element organised by TSEP.
As the largest energy provider in the areas we visited, we invited Origin Energy to take part in the events. Origin Energy assisted its customers and EWON helped the customers of other energy providers who attended the workshops. All customers received one-on-one support to help them access hardship programs, payment plans, rebates, payment assistance vouchers, referrals and more. These events helped raise awareness of, and create links to, support programs which empower community members to seek help from their energy providers and other services in the future.
The events provided an opportunity for EWON to assess the benefits of working with providers on outreach initiatives — and the outcome was overwhelmingly positive. Origin Energy found:
- customers they met with face-to-face were more likely to continue to make regular payments
- 91% of customers who signed up to Origin’s ‘Power On’ hardship program during these visits maintained their payment arrangement
- a significant number of customers also signed up for energy efficiency visits, with 80% reducing their energy bills as a result and saving on average $770 a year.
During the trips that took place in 2017/2018, EWON received 146 complaints for resolution – up significantly from the 65 complaints we received the previous year. This reinforces the increase in consumer confidence which arises from our community outreach program. The majority of these complaints were about affordability issues.
We visited the following communities:
- Lake Cargelligo
Services that participated in the Bring Your Bills days:
- Aboriginal Housing Office
- Far West Legal
- First Nations Disability Network
- Legal Aid NSW
- Lifeline Broken Hill
- Mallee Family Care
- Mission Australia
- NSW Fair Trading
- Office of Environment and Heritage
- Revenue NSW
- Salvation Army
- Warruwi Gambling Help
Complaint locations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
EWON does not routinely collect information about our customers’ cultural backgrounds but we do capture this information when it is offered. For this reason, these figures may under-represent the number of CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers who use our services. At the same time, we are conscious that many of these consumers are not aware EWON can assist them and so do not contact us. Therefore, we continue to focus on engagement with these communities to increase awareness of EWON and the services we provide.