Consumer energy resources complaints and case studies

Table 8 – Complaints involving behind the meter products by service provider, July to September 2023 

Service provider

Complaints opened involving behind
the meter products

Electricity > network > authorised


Electricity > not allocated


Electricity > network > exempt


Electricity > retail > authorised


Electricity > retail > exempt *




* Consumer Energy Resources within embedded networks or exempt sellers offering solar powered purchase arrangements (SPPA) 

Table 9 - Top 10 core issues for closed complaints involving behind the meter technologies, July to September 2023

Engaging with energy consumers through digital platforms

More and more consumers contacting EWON report that they use their energy retailer's mobile app when making complaints. This trend is especially notable among customers who have invested in rooftop solar and battery systems.

The benefits of digital customer service platforms

Digital platforms, like mobile apps, offer a range of benefits and can potentially engage energy consumers more effectively than traditional methods. This quarter, we look closely at complaints that encompass issues involving mobile apps offered by energy retailers to better understand how customer service is evolving in the retail energy market. Based on what customers are telling us, the benefits of digital customer service platforms include:

  • Improved access to energy data and billing information: many energy customers are monitoring their energy usage and budgeting for household energy costs using the mobile apps provided by retailers. Customers can use this information to make more informed decisions about investing in consumer energy resources (CER), choosing from the available tariff options, and choosing the best offers in the retail energy market.  

  • Increased customer control over account settings: some energy customers are using self-service tools contained in their energy retailer’s app to control some aspects of their account. Customers are telling us about submitting electricity meter self-reads, making complaints, opening and closing accounts, switching to better energy offers from their existing retailer, and establishing payment plans through apps. Customers also tell us that they identified problems with their account, such as address mismatches, or transfers in error, because they have real time access to their account details through the app. 

  • Improved tools for supporting customers at risk of vulnerability: some customers are using mobile apps to change their payment options or to budget for upcoming bills. Energy retailers that offer more options for supporting customers at risk of vulnerability may provide benefits to consumers that are reluctant to seek help over the phone. Customers must have access to an internet connection to benefit from these digital platform options. 

  • New communication channels: some customers are communicating directly with their energy retailer via chat and/or message functions contained in the retailer’s mobile apps. A retailer offering a communication channel through their mobile app can provide customers with a smoother customer service experience. Retailers might also avoid a complaint escalating where more contact options are available. 

Digital platforms not meeting expectations 

There are also risks involved with delivering digital customer service platforms. When things go wrong, and the digital platform does not work as promised customers may feel they have been misled by a retailer. We identified the following risks for retailers offering digital platforms.

App not functioning as promised

Customers have the potential to lose trust in their energy retailer, or disengage, if the functionality of the digital platforms offered does not meet their expectations. Customers have expressed frustration to us when their energy app is missing usage or solar export data, no longer giving them access to bills, or the app simply is not working.

Unreliable information or energy data provided

As more customers engage with digital platforms, energy retailers will need to maintain consumer trust by ensuring information provided through apps is reliable. Examples of complaints we have received about the information provided through digital platforms include:

  • where app data is based on estimations and the customer does not think this was communicated clearly. 
  • unexplained delays updating the usage or solar export data in the app.  
  • where usage or solar export data provided by the app does not match the information provided on the customer’s bill. 
  • if tools provided within the app providing customers with forecasts or predictions for their upcoming bills are significantly inaccurate. 

Self-service options don’t meet customer expectations

Customers have told us that they are frustrated that the self-service options provided by their retailer’s mobile app are either not working, or not straight forward to use. For example, we have received complaints about:

  • difficulty registering their energy account on the retailer app 
  • unable to submit self-reads as directed 
  • difficulty switching plans 
  • errors with payment plans.

Customers have also expressed frustration when content has suddenly been removed from the app, such as historical usage data or the complete billing history for their account.

App doesn’t lead to a better customer experience

Some customers have complained to EWON that they have used a retailer’s app to request information, or make a complaint, and received no response. This has resulted in the customer returning to traditional communication channels to make their enquiry or complaint. Energy retailers offering communication channels through their digital platforms should aim to deliver a positive experience and grow consumer trust in these services.

Do we need new consumer protections for energy consumers using digital platforms?

Digital platforms, like mobile apps, are not directly regulated through the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF). However, the reliability of these services will become critical as more and more customers obtain smart meters and engage with their energy provider through digital customer service platforms. This will especially be the case if traditional methods of engagement, such as customer service over the phone, become less accessible as a result.

In a joint ombudsman submission to the Australian Energy Regulator’s review of consumer protections for future energy services, we highlighted that when the energy retailer is offering customers additional energy products and services, not covered by NECF, it is not easy to separate the ‘essential’ from the ‘non-essential’ when things go wrong.

Important regulatory changes to energy billing requirements and the payment difficulties framework have led to improvements in the retail services provided to energy customers. For consumers obtaining information from retailer mobile apps, or using a self-service capability to establish a payment plan, rather than relying on a bill or a telephone service, it will be unclear how traditional consumer protections should be applied.

Regulation can also make change slower. For example, focusing the regulation of consumer protections around what was a paper bill may not lead to positive outcomes. If we are moving towards a world that promises customers self-service at their fingertips, our regulatory framework must keep pace with this promise. And it must do so in a way that builds consumer trust in our transforming energy services. The difficulty for consumer advocates and energy ombudsman schemes in the short term will be working out where a complaint about energy services ends, and a complaint about technology starts.

If we fast forward into a future where most customer interactions with their energy retailer are made through an app, which allows customers to self-manage their energy supply, what services standards or consumer protections would we wish we had built around these technologies?

Case studies

Case study Misleading usage data in retailer’s mobile app

A customer complained to EWON that his most recent quarterly electricity bill was 350% higher than his previous bill. He explained that he had a rooftop solar system installed on his roof and his energy usage patterns did not change between billing periods. His retailer had advised him that his complaint would be investigated, and there may be a problem with the generation from his rooftop solar system. The customer also complained that the retailer’s mobile app has quoted his quarterly usage at $488.95 but the bill he has received was $1,234. He advised EWON that the information in the app was misleading and has caused him stress.

"" We referred the matter to the retailer for resolution at a higher level. The customer accepted knowing that he could return to us if he was unhappy with the outcome.

Case study Usage data based on estimates 

A customer installed the mobile app offered by his energy retailer to monitor his usage. He complained to EWON that the app did not show an accurate reflection of his usage. He had contacted his energy retailer to find out why the data in the app appeared unreliable and was informed that the usage on the app was estimated. The customer complained to EWON that the retailer was estimating the usage in the app when they should be able to access new data from the meter data provider daily. The customer was not satisfied that he could not determine that the usage on the app was accurate until a bill was issued.

"" We referred the matter to the retailer for resolution at a higher level. The customer accepted knowing that he could return to us if he was unhappy with the outcome.