Got Major Energy Bill Problems? So do 30,000+ others... (and that's just counting NSW)

Each year the Energy & Water Ombudsman in NSW releases an annual report of complaints received and dealt with.

Over recent years complaint growth has been in excess of 40% per year. In the most recent year (2013/14) complaints still increased but only by 5%.

High & Disputed Bills Still the Biggest Complaint

Billing issues (in particular high and disputed bills), customer service related complaints and affordability-related credit issues dominated complaint numbers in 2013/2014.

A welcome change saw marketing and transfer related complaints drop this year following a reduction in door to door marketing and lower rates of switching.

Complaint issue

No. of complaints* 2013/2014

No. of complaints* 2012/2013

% Change

Billing

20843

19549

+7%

Customer service

11045

9162

+21%

Credit

9720

7610

+28%

Transfer

8178

9099

-10%

Marketing

1248

2501

-50%

*Note there may be more than one issue per complaint.

Credit Terms Tighten & Outsourced Debt Collection Deployed

In 2013, price increases were notably smaller than previous years, however,

“these increments came on top of costs that were already unmanageable for some households. The full impact of the considerable rises in 2011 and 2012 is still unfolding for those customers who face mounting arrears and, in some cases, debt collection or credit listing.”

Clare Petre, Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW

The number of people contacted by debt collectors or credit listed increased significantly as many retailers tightened their credit policies and began selling debt for the first time. 

Credit issues

No. of complaints* 2013/2014

No. of complaints* 2012/2013

% Change

Arrears/utility debt

3267

2777

+18%

Contacted by debt collectors

1942

1467

+32%

Credit rating affected

1705

1116

+53%

Disconnection due to non-payment

1702

1293

+32%

Payment arrangement declined

1151

703

+64%

*Note there may be more than one issue per complaint.

Looking ahead,

“There are some grounds for optimism that 2014/2015 might see some relief for consumers and a steadying of complaints to EWON. Of course, how well this prediction is borne out will also depend on the ability of energy and water companies to manage customer complaints and to respond to customer issues as they arise.”

However, as electricity prices ease, gas pricing is likely to emerge as an issue during 2014/15.

Take Action Before You Need The Ombudsman

It is a good thing that the Energy & Water Ombudsman exists as a final line of defense for customers getting nowhere with their energy retailer.

Even so, you can often avoid the protracted hassle of getting the Ombudsman's office involved by better understanding your own billing and usage issues.

You might like to start by reading our blog post on the most common causes of very high electricity bills.

It is also worth considering how to get a better deal on power & gas. Although on this point I would say if you have a genuine dispute with your current provider it is best not to change retailer. Changing retailer whilst you are in the middle of a billing dispute can make the paper trail even more confusing than it already is.

Finally, you can stick it to the energy retailers by doing what thousands of our customers have done. That is: drastically reduce your energy consumption by:

  1. Upgrading all of your lighting to high quality LEDs
  2. Installing these innovate energy saving devices
By Ryan McCarthy |

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