Ombudsmans Overview - A Closer Look at Water Issues
With water cases remaining relatively low, at around 4% of all EWOV cases on average annually, we usually find EWOV’s reports focussing more on energy issues. However, with quite a lot happening in the Victorian water industry over the past year or so—regulatory price reviews, new business plans, legislative changes, a price freeze arising from over-collection of payments related to the Wonthaggi desalination plant and the expansion of the hardship guaranteed service level—we thought it timely to use this issue of Res Online to take a closer look at water cases, issues and developments.
Looking back, water was the third industry to come under EWOV’s jurisdiction. Its inclusion from April 2001 more than doubled the number of EWOV scheme participants—adding three metropolitan water retailers, one metropolitan water wholesaler, 15 regional urban water businesses and five rural water businesses—all State Government-owned, with diverse operations. Early on, billing emerged as the most common water issue overall, as is the case with electricity and gas. Supply emerged as the most common issue requiring EWOV investigation. Water also delivered a level of complexity we hadn’t, at that time, experienced with electricity and gas. Some of the more complex water complaints involved broader community issues, such as water quality for townships and consultation prior to the introduction of new town sewerage schemes. Interestingly a decade or so down the track, the complexity of energy complaints (electricity in particular) seems to have caught up, especially around metering and tariffs.
We’re very aware that water bills are being held lower than they would otherwise be—the price freeze implemented by the Essential Services Commission following the over-collection of desalination plant payments is estimated to have lowered bills by about $72 million over the six months to December 2012. With the desalination plant ‘refund’ process likely to be finalised by 2013-14 and price increases from regulatory reviews on the way, we’re anticipating that water cases about billing and affordability are likely to increase.
As well as the water feature, this issue of Res Online includes cases, issues, trends, case studies, systemic issues and EWOV policy submissions for the October to December 2012 quarter.
If you’d like to suggest something for a future issue of Res Online, please make contact with Matt Helme, EWOV’s Research and Communications Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org