Two years ago, our Dispute Resolution Team noticed that almost half of all complaints to EWON about affordability and disconnection were from Origin Energy customers. They alerted our Policy & Research Team, which identified several complaints in which Origin Energy actions were at odds with both the Australian Energy Regulator's (AER) Hardship Guideline and its own.
EWON raised the issue with Origin Energy multiple times highlighting disconnection and the lack of affordable payment plans in our compliance reporting to the AER. The Energy & Water Ombudsman SA (EWOSA) reported similar issues and a total of 37 complaints through EWON and 25 through EWOSA were raised with the AER.
In June 2022, the Federal Court ordered Origin Energy to pay a record $17 million penalty for breaching laws and regulations designed to protect customers in financial difficulty. Without our complaint handling and systemic issues work, these breaches might not have been identified and brought to the attention of the AER.
The Federal Court found that Origin Energy’s automated processes led to more than 100,000 breaches of the National Energy Retail Law (NERL) and National Energy Retail Rules (NERR) between January 2018 and October 2021, affecting more than 90,000 customers. It found that the automated process meant customers’ capacity to pay was overlooked in decisions about establishing and increasing payment plans and payment plans being cancelled.
The AER specifically recognised the work of EWON and EWOSA in helping to bring about the outcome. Stemming from a relatively small number of complaints, the case highlights the importance of our thorough, cross-team approach to finding and dealing with systemic issues.