Embedded network complaints and case studies

This quarter EWON opened 65 complaints from embedded network customers. 

Table 7 - Embedded network complaints by service provider, April to June 2022

Service provider Complaints by embedded network customers
Electricity > network > exempt 3
Electricity > not allocated 0
Electricity > retail > authorised 40
Electricity > retail > exempt 9
Gas > retail > authorised 13
Non energy / non water > not allocated 0
Total 65

This quarter EWON closed 60 complaints from customers whose electricity or gas (including hot water) is supplied through an embedded network.

Click here to view the top 10 core issues for embedded network complaints closed this quarter.

Click here to view the top 10 issues for embedded network complaints closed this quarter.

Energy prices are rising due to a range of global and national factors, bringing into focus the importance of customer choice. EWON advises customers that one step they can take in response to high energy prices is to compare energy plans and choose the one that is best for them.

The Energy Security Board (ESB) identifies switching providers as one of five key consumer protection principles to consider when assessing consumer risks and benefits in policy development. Customers should be able to change retail providers when they choose, but, currently only on-market customers of authorised retailers have access to retail competition. Customers living in embedded networks do not have access to retail competition unless they follow a complex and costly process to transition their individual connection point to be on-market.

EWON has explored this and other gaps in consumer protections for customers living in embedded networks in our Spotlight On Embedded Networks – it’s time for a change and Spotlight On Hot water embedded networks. EWON has also raised issues facing customers living in embedded networks in recent submissions to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) review of the retailer authorisation and exemption frameworks and the NSW Legislative Assembly Committee on Law and Safety inquiry into embedded networks. 

The case studies below demonstrate that as energy prices rise, a lack of choice continues to drive complaints for customers living in embedded networks. The third case study also demonstrates that energy cost is not the only factor that leads customers to want to change retailers, with customers also considering aspects such as a retailer’s customer service reputation.

Case Study: Customer disputes gas bills and inability to switch retailer  

A customer rented a property where electricity and gas were supplied by an embedded network. He received gas bills of between $250 to $380 per month for cooking and hot water. He noted that at his previous property, which was not in an embedded network, his gas bills were less than $500 per quarter. He had also experienced several gas hot water outages, during which he was unable to get timely assistance from the exempt seller, and was extremely unhappy that he was not able to choose his own retailer. When he contacted EWON, the exempt seller was in the process of arranging a technician to attend the property to check for leaks or faults in the gas hot water system.  

EWON provided detailed information about the operation of embedded networks and centralised hot water. EWON advised that a technician visit was a reasonable step in investigating his concerns about the billing and outages. The customer agreed to wait for the outcome of the technician’s visit before deciding whether to continue dealing with the exempt seller directly or to return to EWON for further advice and assistance. 

Case Study: Social housing tenant unable to shop around for a different retailer

An advocate contacted EWON on behalf of a social housing tenant. The electricity in the social housing complex was supplied by an authorised retailer operating an embedded network. The customer had received a higher than expected bill for February 2022, when she had been away from the property, and most of the bill was made up of daily service charges. The advocate considered the customer’s bill—particularly the daily service charges—to be high and was frustrated that the customer was not able to choose a different retailer with lower service charges due to living in an embedded network. The advocate was unhappy with the social housing provider’s decision for the complex to be set up with an embedded network. 

EWON provided detailed information about the operation of embedded networks. EWON also reviewed the customer’s prices in comparison to on-market offers in the customer’s area and noted that they were similar but acknowledged the advocate’s concerns about the customer not having access to retail competition. We also advised that daily service charges are payable when away from a property in most circumstances, not just in embedded networks.  

The advocate advised that she would discuss the situation further with the customer and return to EWON for additional advice and assistance if required. The advocate was also considering making a complaint about the social housing provider, so EWON referred her to the NSW Ombudsman. 

Case Study: Customer moving into  new property concerned about poor retailer reviews

A customer was about to move into a new apartment and had been advised that the building complex was serviced by an embedded network, which meant she could not choose her own retailer. She was not yet sure what the energy prices were going to be, but had read numerous poor reviews for the exempt seller online and did not wish to have an energy account with it. She contacted EWON to discuss whether she had been given correct advice that she had no choice of retailer. 

EWON provided detailed information about the operation of embedded networks. EWON explained that the exempt seller was a member of EWON, and that the customer could contact EWON if a complaint arose that she could not resolve directly with the exempt supplier.