25 May 2020 : Winter is coming and COVID-19 related energy bill shock may follow, but free, fair and independent advice is available.
The Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) has launched an awareness campaign to help energy customers understand the affordability options available to them during COVID-19.
Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW, Janine Young said the pandemic has amplified an existing problem.
“Vulnerable customers were struggling to pay their energy bills well before COVID-19. Now more people may experience affordability issues as household incomes fall and energy use increases with families working and schooling from home as winter sets in,” Ms Young explained.
High bills are consistently the main reason customers seek assistance from EWON. Figures released by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) show 77,669 New South Wales customers were repaying energy debt between October and December last year and this is likely to increase with COVID-19 related job losses.
“Our COVID-19 awareness campaign is aimed at customers who often experience affordability challenges, as well as customers who may struggle to pay their energy bill for the first time. This group includes casual workers and young people who are now unemployed. Many people don’t know what options are available to them – and energy retailers are ready to provide assistance.”
The AER’s Statement of Expectations released in response to COVID-19, requires energy retailers to provide unconditional access to affordability programs and payment plans, as well as protection from disconnection and referral to debt collection agencies until 31 July 2020.
Ms Young said EWON is already receiving complaints as a result of COVID and expects they will increase.
“So far we’ve seen billing disputes related to high estimated bills, payment plans, and complaints from customers with affordability issues resulting from impacts of COVID-19.”
“Customers should contact their retailer first to discuss their options,” Ms Young said. “If they aren’t satisfied with the result, they can contact EWON for free, fair and independent advice. We are here to help,” Ms Young said.
For more information visit ewon.com.au/covid19
To request an interview with the Ombudsman contact Fran Strachan, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0429 416 070.