A message from the Ombudsman
Welcome to our final newsletter for 2020! For all of us this has been a year like no other. The challenges started with the bushfires and storms in 2019 and have continued with COVID-19 – which continues to affect many energy customers experiencing, or at risk of, financial vulnerability.
COVID-19-induced energy debt still poses a huge threat, especially as government initiatives like Jobkeeper and Jobseeker are wound back.
For this reason, we welcomed the extension of the Australian Energy Regulator's (AER) revised Statement of Expectations to 31 March 2021, particularly with respect to encouraging customers who can pay, to do so, as this will help prevent high debt and stave off long term consequences for both consumers and retailers.
The Statement of Expectations 3 emphasises the need for retailers to ensure that customers currently on deferred debt arrangements are transferred to sustainable payment plans or affordability programs where appropriate. Please encourage you clients to take up these options so that they avoid the added stress of accrued debt leading up to Christmas.
At the beginning of April, I wrote an article published in Utility Magazine, arguing that the pandemic could be both a circuit breaker and stimulus for making a long-term, sustainable shift to energy affordability. The COVID-19 initiatives that have been introduced since March, combined with energy networks and retailers working together, offer a blueprint for addressing energy affordability in the long-term. As I said in my article, from crisis comes great opportunity and I think eight months down the track we are starting to see these opportunities evolve.
In terms of complaints to EWON this quarter, high bill complaints have slowly begun to increase, possibly due to COVID-19 and the fact we are coming out of the winter billing period. However, our full year projection is still only 16,800 complaints received compared to 19,370 in FY 2020.
We have ended the year on a high note with a successful online Consultative Council Meeting attended by over 100 participants from a great mix of community groups, members and government and industry stakeholders including representatives from over 16 community organisations, including; St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare, Lifeline, The Salvation Army, the Financial Rights Legal Centre and Sydney Alliance.
I highly value all of EWON’s collaborations with community workers and organisations and look forward to another year working together, and hopefully, resuming face-to-face outreach events.
Wishing you all a safe and relaxing holiday season.
Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW