victorian Energy resources drained by affordability concerns

The Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV)’s annual report revealed more than one in five of the customers who contacted the body in 2013-14 were seeking help to resolve a credit issue, such as the disconnection/restriction of supply, debt collection or payment difficulties.

Almost 85,000 cases were received by EWOV in 2013-14, 10 per cent more than the year prior, along with an additional 48 per cent more credit cases – 207 per cent more than in 2009-10.

Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria Cynthia Gebert said the body’s resources were increasingly drawn into assisting customers with energy and water affordability concerns and, that for the first time, the credit issue of disconnection/restriction replaced high bill as the top complain issue overall.

“Given EWOV’s credit case category is essentially about the capacity of customers to pay their bills and stay on supply, to have 18,065 customers contact us for help with a credit matter is of great concern and a strong indicator of the growing issue of energy and water affordability,” she said.

The EWOV 2014 Annual Report attributes the increase in credit cases mainly to a greater focus by energy retailers on recovering aged debt and resolving long-term issues of poor payment history or non-payment of bills.

“Customers commonly contacted EWOV when they were unable to negotiate an affordable payment arrangement with their retailer, and a greater number of customers complained that their energy supply had been disconnected,” Ms Gebert said.

“That so many customers have sought our help certainly highlights the value of EWOV as an accessible source of independent advice and dispute resolution assistance.

”On the other hand, it’s important to remember that most of the Victorians behind that headline number contacted us for help because they had an unresolved complaint with their electricity, gas or water company. We certainly don’t wish to find ourselves hurtling towards the 1 million cases mark.”