Ombudsman message



I’ve recently attended two events where I’ve witnessed first-hand the repercussions of the cost-of-living crisis. 

My Ombudsman colleagues and I hosted the External Dispute Resolution (EDR) Forum just prior to the Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) Conference in Canberra last week. The focus of the Forum was for us to collaborate with financial counsellors, identify the top issues they, and us, are currently encountering in our work and share advice about our different approaches. Unsurprisingly the cost-of-living crisis, scams, family violence, eligibility for rebates and concessions and default listing/credit reporting were identified as the big issues. Financial counsellors shared that they are working with clients who have never needed to seek advice in the past and that backlogs are already building. We shared our experiences from a complaint's perspective – and the value of our systemic issues approach.  

The conversations were bracing and enlightening. We all recognise the value and support financial counsellors provide to their clients, and that they also are exceptional at promoting the assistance energy retailers, community support organisations, EWON and other Ombudsman offices, can provide to customers. 

The AER’s Better Bills Guideline, due to commence in October, will also help raise awareness of external dispute resolution services. The Guideline requires all retailers to include the details of the energy Ombudsman on their bills. Before this occurs, energy companies need to harness this as a valuable opportunity for them to build confidence in their internal dispute resolution services as well as promote EWON as providing free, fair and independent advice and dispute resolution for those customers who remain dissatisfied with their energy providers complaint response. 

Finally, I spent the day in Richmond this month for our Hawkesbury Community Assist Day. This area west of Sydney has been hit hard by flooding in recent years, and cost of living impacts have now compounded on the effects of the 2022 floods.  
 
Energy and water providers were on hand to help locals with their bills and provide information about rebates and concessions for customers concerned about rising energy prices. Community and government agencies also attended to help with support for seniors and carers, legal and financial matters, tenancy rights, social support and more. I heard from customers who were facing complex issues including high energy bills, living in flood-damaged housing, problems with NDIS support as well as fines and legal issues.  
 
As we look to the start of the new financial year, we are already anticipating further affordability challenges with the Default Market Offer increasing by up to 23% from July. This, combined with the onset of colder weather, will bring financial pressure to a head for many NSW consumers. We will remain vigilant and available; ready to help NSW customers stay connected to these essential services.   
 
Until next time 
 
Janine Young 
Ombudsman and Chief Executive Officer 
Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW 
 

 

Complaint update


Graphic showing 4347 complaints received

In the January to March 2023 quarter, EWON received 4,347 cases, down 3% compared to the previous quarter. Again, the majority of complaints concerned electricity (3,376), with 751 complaints about gas and 193 regarding water. Consumers continue to experience billing (3,100), customer service (1,583) and affordability (612) problems with their energy providers. 

View more complaint data

 

Spotlight on: Switching energy providers 


A growing number of energy customers face confusion and financial disadvantage when trying to switch retailers under the new ‘two-day switching’ model. 

EWON’s latest Spotlight On report describes the unexpected consequences emerging from the new two-day switching process of transferring energy providers. Customers contacting EWON are confused, unhappy with unexpected bills they don’t understand and frustrated that the process of changing provider wasn’t clearly explained to them by their new retailer.

We are highlighting these emerging transfer issues now before they undermine consumer trust and engagement – the very things that two-day switching was designed to increase. 

Read the report

 

Unplanned power outages and life support customers


Customers who use home-based life support equipment require a stable electricity supply. But planned outages for network maintenance, and unplanned outages caused by car accidents or severe weather events can happen. It’s important for customers, family members and carers to take steps to plan for the future.  

We have a handy checklist customers can use to prepare for power outages – it could save your, your client or a loved one's life. 

Find out more and download the checklist

 

Consumer disconnection and debt research


The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) is researching consumer disconnection and debt issues in New South Wales and is looking for valuable insights from financial counsellors and community workers.

The research will also explore consumers’ experiences with debt, especially ‘hidden debt’, which has become a growing issue for the energy sector. The purpose of the research will be to change policies in the hope of improving experiences and outcomes for consumers facing the threat of disconnection from their key utility providers.

Action Market Research has been commissioned by PIAC to undertake research with front line workers such as financial counsellors, legal aid service providers and community workers as well as consumers to get a complete picture of what the issues are.

Participation in this study has now closed.

 

Introducing our new Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer


My name is Jillian Scahill and I’m the new Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer at EWON.

I’m a Budawang Women from Yuin Nation and I have been working in the community sector for over 13 years. I have worked in Family Support, Out of Home Care, Early Literacy and Financial Counselling.  I have a passion for helping the community and ensuring people have the information they need to assist in their daily lives. 

I have recently moved from Financial Counselling into this role, and I am looking forward to being out in the community again. I enjoy having a yarn and returning home to learn from my Elders. 

I have a passion for helping First Nations people and ensuring they have a voice. I hope to serve the community well and provide a point of contact for them with any issues they have with their energy and water accounts. 

I’m particularly keen to work with, or join interagencies, focused on First Nations peoples. You can get in touch with me by emailing community@ewon.com.au. Look forward to working with you.

 

EWON Consultative Council Meeting


Our May Consultative Council Meeting (CCM) focused on the future of energy and water systems. A panel of experts from the Australian Energy Council, Water Services Association of Australia and the Clean Energy Council spoke about their drive for continuous improvement as peak bodies, and what they are doing to ensure their members assist customers.

It was a great opportunity for stakeholders to meet face to face and for others to take part online.

Find out more in our CCM wrap up  

 

Privacy at EWON


With the current high threat of scams, privacy is a hot topic and EWON takes it seriously. During Privacy Awareness Week our staff reflected on our commitment to making sure our customers personal information is kept safe. 

The theme ‘Back to basics’ reminded us of the importance of ensuring the personal information we collect, hold, use and disclose as part of our daily function as an ombudsman office, remains in line with the Australian privacy laws.

Visit our website for more information on how we manage customers information and to read our Privacy Policy.

 

Winter warmers


Just in time for winter, we are promoting EWON’s Winter Warmers information kit. This resource assists customers to keep energy consumption and accounts under control during the cold weather, helping them to avoid bill shock and arrears later.

Community workers and consumer advocates play an important role in educating and assisting households manage their bills. We encourage you to refer clients who may benefit from the information to our Winter Warmers page

 

Case study: new contract, but no rebate applied


Sally changed her electricity plan as her current benefit period was ending. The new retailer said the discount would be higher and her bills would decrease, however, her bills started to increase.

Find out what happened next

 

Upcoming events


We’re looking forward to seeing customers at several upcoming events, including: 

Visit our events page for more information.

 

Submissions


We have recently commented on strata schemes, metering services, water regulation, consumer energy resources, embedded networks, privacy and the Default Market Offer in our policy submissions.

Our responses are always informed by what we see. We identify customer issues through our complaint management and community engagement activities and use this information to influence policy development. 

View our recent submissions

 

Subscribe to our other publications


EWON has a range of reports and publications available. Visit ewon.com.au/subscribe and select the publications you would like to receive.