The Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW has developed a Family Violence position statement which outlines how we respond to family violence when it is revealed in our complaints management.
Family violence exacerbates vulnerability and creates a barrier to engagement with energy and water providers. It is important that we respond to consumers experiencing family violence in an appropriate way. An empathetic and knowledgeable voice over the phone can alleviate stress and open up a conversation that leads to achievable short-term and sometimes, long-term solutions, including referrals to support organisations.
The Council of Australian Governments announced its fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. It states that the prevention of violence against women should become a core priority for all industries and government areas. This response to family violence is relatively new, and along with other energy and water ombudsman schemes, we have expressed a commitment to learn from each other’s experiences and share our understanding of best practice.
Economic abuse and utilities
High debt is often a consequence of economic abuse, with research indicating it is common for an abusive partner to use utilities as a way to manipulate or control their family, including by cutting off energy or water. Those living in a violent situation may also incur debt because they have limited capacity to contact their energy or water provider. Others who have escaped by relocating may be overwhelmed by needing to pay utility bills for the first time or be afraid their partner will discover their new address. By the time the victim has found the courage to reach out to their energy or water provider, it is usually at the point of disconnection or debt collection.
Safety and privacy
When dealing with customers who indicate, explicitly or implicitly, that family violence could be a factor, we seek to identify the best and safest method to communicate with them - for example by phone, voicemail message or email.
We also ensure we:
- do not disclose the customer’s contact details
- handle contact information securely
- allocate a dedicated Investigations Officer to minimise the need for customers to repeat information
- protect the safety and wellbeing of our staff.
Work we have done so far
We have worked with experts and researched the work of similar organisations to ensure our staff are equipped to assist customers dealing with this complex and challenging issue. In developing our response, we
- engaged the specialist family violence trainers, Uniting, to provide training for our Leadership Team and frontline staff
- identified family violence referral agencies
- delivered in-house training on our position statement
- identified e-learning modules to provide ongoing support for Investigation Officers and new staff
- Recognise that some of our staff are directly impacted by family violence and have policies and support in place to assist them. We are committed to monitoring and improving the effectiveness of our response over time.