Record high complaints to Energy Obudsman

News posted on 15.10.2014 on Research & developement

Smh.com.au has reported (09/10/2014) on the rise of billing and affordability complaints received by the Energy and Water Ombudsman as NSW families continue to be hit by high energy prices, disconnections, mounting arrears and credit listings.

Half of the record 37,485 complaints received by the Obudsman in 2013-14 related to billing and a quarter of them concerned affordability.

Obudsman, Clare Petre, says that people with fixed low incomes have very little financial flexibility and they struggle to pay higher prices for an essential service.

The large price hikes experienced by consumers in the past four years have been driven by over-spending on wires and poles, and to a lesser extent, the carbon tax.  Despite levelling off since July, these price hikes continue to have an impact on consumers.

This year, 28 per cent more complaints have been received relating to affordability. 64 per cent more complaints were received regarding declined payment arrangements and impacts on credit ratings were up 53 per cent.

Ms Petre is concerned about the "very high" rates of complaints regarding disconnections due to non-payments which rose by 32 per cent to 1702.

The Australian Energy Regulator commented that there has been a thousand more electricity disconnections in NSW in the first nine months of the financial year than occured in the previous 12 months.

Michael Perusco, NSW chief executive of St Vincent de Paul, said that his society handed out $5 million last year to cover energy costs for families in need.  He said that reversing disconnections costs too much for many families and resulted in homelessness.

St Vincent de Pauls would like to see a rebate provided by the state government based on the percentage of the bill.

Ms Petre would like to see more eligible households take up the government's rebate offers.  Unfortunately many people feel intimidated, challenged and confused at the current deals and savings on offer.  She also is concerned that gas will emerge as a future problem with the pricing regulator indicating a 20 per cent rise over the coming two years.