Hello everyone,

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that this quarter complaints have increased by just over 30%. Largely driven by a 34% rise in complaints about energy retailers, energy network complaints rising by 6% and water complaints up by more than 7%. 

The substantial rise in energy retailer complaints has been largely driven by the recent energy market turmoil, high wholesale gas prices and subsequent high rises in customers’ bills. On top of this, rising inflation and interest rates mean customers have less money for energy and water bills. 

Not surprisingly, high bills are still the main reason customers come to EWON. However, we continue to see many complaints where poor customer service is a key component, including long phone wait times and poor responses. 

The ongoing market upheaval makes the AER’s recent launch of its vulnerability strategy Towards energy equity - a strategy for an inclusive energy market very timely. I welcome the opportunity to work with the AER as a member of its Design Group, made up of industry and customer representatives who have committed to working towards game changing solutions to tackle energy affordability. 

In this EWON Insights we feature complaints relating to a customer’s – or frequently their partner’s – incarceration. These complaints are very stressful for the complainant and typically involve unpaid accounts, possible disconnection for those still living at the address, or credit default for a bill that a prisoner couldn’t pay. Our analysis of these complaints also identified gaps in our own processes for handling them and we are working to close those gaps. 

Complaints related to two-day energy retailer switching are still frequent and this quarter we feature case studies that illustrate a new issue: customer detriment arising from two day switching during a period of high retail contract price volatility. 

As you all know, complaints underpin our policy work. Recently EWON has been working with the NSW Department of Industry of Planning and Environment on amendments to the Water Industry Competition Act. We are currently preparing a response to proposed changes to WIC Regulation which, if adopted, will introduce new consumer protections for WIC customers – aligned with those which protect Sydney and Hunter Water customers. 

Finally, I recently appeared as a witness at the NSW Legislative Assembly Committee on Law and Safety’s review into embedded networks in NSW. For several years, EWON has highlighted the deficiencies in consumer protections affecting customers living in embedded networks. We are now waiting on the outcome of the review and hope its recommendations close those gaps. 

2022 is winding down and it has been a challenging year for many of us. During this last quarter, let’s all keep in mind that RUOK Day should be top of mind all year, not just in September. 

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

Janine Young, EWON Ombudsman