Welcome to our first newsletter for 2023, I hope you all had a restful summer break. This year, we will be monitoring three big issues; the rising cost of living including increased energy prices, the ongoing impacts of the floods across NSW and the changing face of energy regulation as the sector transitions to renewable energy products.   

The increased cost of living has put more pressure on energy and water consumers. We saw complaints increase in the middle of last year, followed by a slight decrease from October to December 2022, a traditionally quiet time because of the holiday period. However, complaints are now trending upward and due to ongoing economic pressures we expect this to continue. If you work with clients who have been impacted by rising energy prices, please encourage them to come to us for assistance, especially billing and credit related issues. 

Our annual forum, Recharge and Energise in Ballina last October connected us with community workers after the northern river floods. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Chair, Claire Savage, presented on the AER’s Vulnerability Strategy and the panel discussion between regulators and Ombudsman schemes generated good Q&A from the audience. However, nearly a year on from the floods, we’ve been recently reminded that the impacts are still ongoing. I spent much of January speaking with the media and flood-affected customers who are still being billed for empty premises, often based on estimated meter reads. Northern rivers customers who phoned into ABC talkback radio described the emotional fatigue and trauma associated with having to repeatedly explain their story to providers to resolve the issue. We expect to see similar complaints from the recently flooded Forbes, Dubbo and Menindee and we will continue to support these customers as they rebuild their lives. 

Our Dispute Resolution Team are starting to receive more complaints about new energy products and services, and we’re committed to doing everything we can to assist. However, if these complaints fall outside EWON’s jurisdiction, we are limited in our ability to investigate. We worked on a submission to the AER with our energy and water Ombudsman peers to help ensure consumer protections for future energy services. We will continue this combined work to further influence policy and review of customer protections. 

In December 2022, EWON welcomed our two new Industry Board members, John Bowie, Origin Energy and Candice Suttor, Altogether Group. Both will bring their combined experience to the EWON Board and inform future corporate governance, funding, policy and strategy decision-making.  

All the best for a busy and productive year ahead.

Janine Young
Ombudsman and Chief Executive Officer
Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW