EWON Insights Oct-Dec 2022

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Ombudsman's introduction

In response to the horrific floods in NSW last year, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) issued a letter of expectations to energy retailers about how to support flood affected customers. Despite the overall positive response from industry, EWON is still taking complaints from customers whose homes and lives have been devastated. These customers are receiving estimated bills for premises that are uninhabitable, and where the basis of the estimate doesn’t reflect the prior year, as required. I was interviewed by ABC Radio and Channel 9 about this issue in January, where I heard directly from customers, some of whom then contacted EWON for assistance. We’re committed to continuing our support for flood affected customers by increasing awareness of our service and keeping, as requested, the AER informed.

This issue of EWON Insights focuses on high bills, which are stressful for most customers and particularly worrying for customers experiencing affordability difficulties and/or vulnerable circumstances. Today’s economic environment is expanding the number of financially impacted consumers and we are again hearing the term ‘working poor’ bandied about. This report focuses on complaints relating to sharp price increases due to market volatility, and some gas-specific issues.

There is a growing recognition and acceptance across the energy sector that financial impacts arising from increased energy prices, broader cost of living and interest rates need to be mitigated. Positively, the AER’s recently released Towards Energy Equity – a strategy for an inclusive energy market is focused on:

  • Improving affordability 
  • Increasing customer participation 
  • Supporting customers experiencing payment difficulties 
  • Ensuring customers' voices are heard in sector reforms

EWON participated in consultations leading up to the release of the report, and I continue to be involved in the AER design team’s work. Our focus is on identifying potential “game changer” solutions and reforms which support customers experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, vulnerability. The sector’s input to this work is required to deliver game changing reforms.

We are also continuing to contribute to the Department of Social Services consultation on a funding model to ensure sectors including banking, telecommunications, energy and water appropriately contribute to the funding of financial counselling services so that customers can continue to access this important resource. My vision is to see energy affordability reforms implemented so successfully that the demand for financial counsellors is reduced to the point that funding is no longer required. 

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

Janine Young, EWON Ombudsman