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Complaints fall during COVID-19 but expected increase now emerging

7 Oct 2020: Following months of bushfires, and then state-wide lockdown due to COVID-19, the second part of 2019/2020 presented significant challenges for NSW energy and water consumers.

Despite this, the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) Annual Report 2019/2020, released today, reports a 26% decrease in complaints down to 19,370 complaints compared with the previous financial year.

The Australian Energy Regulator’s 2019 revised Customer Hardship Guideline and its COVID-19 Statement of Expectations were key contributing factors as they significantly reduced energy related disconnections, debt collection and credit default listing.

Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW, Janine Young said she expects that once COVID-related financial support from the government ends, complaints will increase as customers find themselves with accrued energy debt and reduced income.

“While we welcomed the extension of the AER’s Statement of Expectations until 31 October 2020, we expect complaints to increase as government stimulus support decreases – in fact we are already experiencing an increase in complaint receipt. We strongly encourage all energy and water providers to continue to make affordable payment plans available to their customers to prevent debt accrual and potentially, disconnection,” Ms Young said.

Billing complaints continued to be the most significant issue raised by consumers in NSW — present in 62% of all complaints, rising by 3% in 2019/2020.

Billing issues include high and estimated bills, errors, and problems with opening and closing accounts.

Energy affordability was the second most prevalent issue, remaining steady from the previous year and accounting for 20% of all complaints.

The third most significant complaint issue related to poor customer service, failure to respond, incorrect advice or information, and failure to consult or inform customers. Customer service issues were present in 31% of complaints, down 8% on the previous year.

Electricity accounted for 80% of total complaints and gas 16% - both comparable to the prior year. Complaints about water continued to be very low at just 4% of all complaints.

The full Annual Report is now available on the EWON website.

To speak with the Ombudsman, please contact: Fran Strachan, Manager Communications & Outreach at frans@ewon.com.au or 0429 416 070, or Sarah Farache, Communications Officer at sarahf@ewon.com or 0435 204 283.