EWON Insights Jan-Mar 2023

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Ombudsman's introduction

Interest rate and rental increases, cost of living pressures, and the upcoming Default Market Offer increase of up to 23% from July will bring financial pressure to a head for many NSW consumers.

We’re all acutely aware that customers need to know they can access assistance from their energy retailer, community support organisations or EWON now, perhaps more than ever.

The AER’s revised Better Bills Guideline, due to launch in September, will help raise awareness of external dispute resolution services. The Guideline requires all retailers to include the details of the state energy Ombudsman on their bills. Together with my Ombudsman colleagues from other states, we see this as a valuable opportunity for our members to better promote and build confidence in their internal dispute resolution services. This should be supported by promotion of our free, fair and independent dispute resolution service for those customers who remain dissatisfied, and we encourage members to initiate this at the front line.

Promotion of internal and external dispute resolution (EDR) builds confidence and trust in the sector and demonstrates a commitment from retailers to effectively resolve disputes and protect customers. Increasing consumer awareness about Energy and Water Ombudsman schemes also empowers customers to resolve their complaints directly with their energy companies before coming to us.

Earlier this year, with EWOSA, we completed a desktop audit of 30 member websites, focusing on members with a high number of customers and over 50 complaints in the previous financial year. A mixture of energy retail, energy network and water members were included, and we assessed compliance with regulatory requirements and best practice principles.

Concerningly, we identified that:

  • Only one member met all regulatory requirements – and expanded that to reflect best practice.  
  • Most lacked consistency in the information available to customers about EDR. 
  • Most failed to include information about the role of Energy and Water Ombudsman and that we provide free and independent advice.

We will continue to engage with members to further examine their promotion across all communication channels to drive improved promotion of external dispute resolution.  It is imperative for many reasons – perhaps overarchingly for building trust in the energy sector and ensuring Ombudsman services are readily accessible when provider dispute resolution is unsuccessful.

This quarterly report

This issue of EWON Insights again focuses on how difficult it is for some customers to access rebates. Rebate issues continue to present in our top 10 issues, evidencing that customers are looking for additional assistance in paying their energy bills.

Credit issues relating to outstanding arrears and debt collection have also reappeared in our top 10 complaint issues for the first time since the AER’s Statement of Expectations lifted. We will continue monitoring and reporting this trend.

We also look at deceased estates and the avoidable complexity some customers face when finalising or transferring an account away from a deceased family member.

Our regular Customer Energy Resources (CER) section highlights we received more than 500 complaints from customers that own or use CER technologies this quarter, representing just under 12% of all electricity complaints. This proportion will likely grow as CER uptake increases.

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

Janine Young, EWON Ombudsman