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Annual reports
Cynthia Gebert

"Our work on the dispute resolution front line gave us unique insights on how customers were coping in the COVID-19 environment."

When I look back on how EWOV managed the 2020-21 'new normal', our resilience is the quality which shines most brightly. Personally and organisationally, the EWOV team rose to the challenge of coping with the difficulties delivered by COVID-19, staying on track and springing back in good shape. At the same time, we continued to challenge ourselves about how we do what we do, and what that should look like going forward.

We committed to an overarching three-part promise that captures what EWOV's key stakeholders (energy and water customers, energy and water companies, regulators, government and the community) should rightly expect when engaging with us. Summarised below, The EWOV Promise is now the framework through which we look at everything we do.

  • We will find you.
  • We will explain it for you.
  • We will work with you.

Our work on the dispute resolution front line gave us unique insights on how customers were coping in the COVID-19 environment. We shared these insights on the customer experience, and our tracking of complaint issues and trends, with government and regulators through regular data briefings, and in other forums.

In December 2020, we published Missing the Mark, a major piece of research on the Payment Difficulty Framework (PDF) introduced by the Essential Services Commission in January 2019. The research report documents what we know from our case handling about where the PDF has been working and where (and how) it hasn't.

In mid-2021, we completed a second major report, VOICES (Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman's Investigation of Consumer Experiences). This report investigates the consumer experience of new energy products and services — such as solar, home batteries, electric vehicles, home energy management systems, microgrids and virtual power plants.

Despite the challenges the year threw up, we finished 2020-21 well positioned to understand and respond to the needs of all of EWOV's stakeholders.

You can read the Ombudsman's full overview of the year in our report.

Case studies

High bills tracked back to gas leak

RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMER | PAYMENT DIFFICULTIES | NO COMMUNICATION OF SUSPECTED LEAK

2020/14995

An elderly pensioner who lived alone, Lee owed just over $10,000 for gas. In early 2020, concerned about high bills, Lee engaged a plumber to check the gas line and meter at their property. The plumber found that tree branches had caused a major leak in the fitting line. The leak was repaired, and Lee's gas ducted heater was cleaned and serviced. Lee wanted the gas retailer to cover the cost of the plumber. The retailer rejected the claim.

At Assisted Referral, the retailer offered to reduce Lee's arrears by just over $2,000 to $8,000. Lee wasn't satisfied that the retailer had investigated the high billing properly. Saying $8,000 was still unaffordable, Lee sought a $6,000 arrears reduction and an independent assessment by EWOV.

We opened an Investigation. Following checks with both the local gas distributor and gas retailer, we found that Lee's bills were correct based on meter data, but were high due to a leak. The leak was on Lee's side. We also found that the local distributor had alerted Lee's retailer to higher than usual gas use at the property in early 2019, but the retailer hadn't acted on that advice to tell Lee something may be wrong.

On billing to late December 2020, Lee owed $10,058.18 for gas. The retailer offered a credit of $3,582.60. This was the difference between Lee's 2019 billing and 2020 billing, after the leak was repaired. This left Lee owing $6,475.58.

Lee and the retailer agreed on a payment arrangement for the arrears, in line with the requirements in the Energy Retail Code. This included:

  • referral of Lee to the retailer's hardship team
  • a six-month hold on the arrears
  • an affordable payment plan
  • advice about entitlements under the Payment Difficulty Framework
  • information about available government assistance, e.g. a Utility Relief Grant and concessions
  • practical assistance to lower the home's gas costs
  • ongoing support and updates.

Lee would need to be contactable, participate in the hardship program, and make the agreed payments by the due dates. The complaint was closed.

Debt waiver vs payment plan

LARGE BUSINESS CUSTOMER | DEBT COLLECTION DURING COVID-19 LOCKDOWN

2020/10960

Affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, Hayden contacted their business' energy retailer asking that the electricity and gas accounts be put on hold. This was agreed. Hayden said that, even though their business suffered a 40% loss of income, it continued to make weekly electricity payments of $500 and gas payments of $250 to help manage its arrears. Even so, the business was emailed and called by debt collectors acting for the retailer. Hayden considered this to be unnecessary harassment, causing stress and anxiety, because the retailer knew the business was suffering financially. Hayden said the business had been a customer of the retailer for over ten years, and in recent years its energy accounts had been in credit. Asked by Hayden about an electricity contract review and rates reduction, the retailer said the best it could do was to put the account on hold. Having then been contacted by debt collectors, Hayden doubted this had happened.

At the Assisted Referral stage, the retailer offered an electricity network tariff change, which it calculated would save the business around $715 a year. When Hayden returned to EWOV still dissatisfied with the retailer's response, we opened an Investigation. In response, the retailer said its own investigation had concluded that Hayden wasn't interested in a payment plan — just a three months' billing waiver on the basis of customer loyalty. The retailer said it was unable to offer that.

The complaint was resolved when Hayden accepted a three-month payment plan of $200 a week towards the business' electricity arrears of just over $15,000, and agreed that all future bills would be paid in full by the due date. It was agreed that the payment plan could be re-negotiated at the end of the three months. The complaint was closed.

The real reason for connection delays

BUSINESS CUSTOMER | EXISTING METER, BUT SUPPLY DISCONNECTED | COMPLIANCE WITH REGULATIONS

2021/3643

The property from which Ash was planning to run a business already had an electricity meter. After providing the certificate of compliance requested by the local electricity distributor, Ash was told that the property's meter board needed to be relocated by a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC). Ash engaged an REC, but the connection didn't progress.

With the power still not on, Ash contacted EWOV. When an Assisted Referral didn't resolve the complaint, we opened an Investigation. Responding to our Investigation, the distributor attributed the connection delay to things that Ash's REC didn't address properly. We reviewed the service orders received and rejected by the distributor for the property. We also sought technical advice. This concluded that several things contributed to the delay, including lack of access and incorrect paperwork, but the main reason was a non-compliant point of attachment.

If the property's electricity hadn't been disconnected a few years earlier, this wouldn't have been a problem. Because it had been disconnected, the work had to be treated as a new connection in line with the current Victoria Service & Installations Rules. Our Investigation found that Ash's REC had missed critical steps and paperwork. Ash accepted EWOV's independent advice. The complaint was closed.

Pruning in question after fallen line electrifies fences

RURAL CUSTOMER | TIME TAKEN TO RESPOND | VEGETATION MANAGEMENT

2021/607

During a late afternoon storm, a branch fell onto a powerline on Lou's property causing the line to fall across their wire fence. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) arrived quickly, telling Lou two fences were electrified. They were told to stay clear, preferably inside, until the local electricity distributor came. The distributor arrived 16 hours later. Lou was upset that the repair took so long given the dangerous situation. Lou also raised concerns that the distributor wasn't doing enough to keep the trees pruned.

Assessing that the complaint was unlikely to resolve through an Assisted Referral, the distributor requested an EWOV Investigation. It told us that a severe weather front crossing Victoria had led to more faults in one day than it usually receives in a month, many of them high priority. Around 59,000 customers were affected. The distributor said that when the CFA rang to report wires down, live wires weren't mentioned, so the work was assessed as lower priority.

On top of that, problems it had with its Outage Management System meant staff had to use a contingency application to report faults. On vegetation management, it said its responsibilities were to ensure adequate clearance from powerlines. Ongoing maintenance of a tree or further clearing outside the minimum clearance was the responsibility of the tree owner, in this case the Council. It apologised for the delay in addressing the situation at the properties. Lou accepted the distributor's response to our Investigation. The complaint was closed.

Chasing answers after surprise disconnection

TENANT | TRANSFER IN ERROR | BOUNCED BETWEEN RETAILERS

2020/14915

In late August 2020, the electricity at Alex's unit was disconnected after a real estate agent that managed two units in the block requested a retailer switch for another unit. Alex said that after no bills arrived, they'd called their retailer. They were told their electricity account was now held by a different retailer. Calling the second retailer, Alex was told it had no record of them. Alex went back to the original retailer. It agreed to fix things. Soon afterwards, Alex's electricity was cut off.

The local electricity distributor told Alex the second retailer had ordered the disconnection. Alex rang the second retailer again, and was again told it had no record of them. Alex went back to their original retailer seeking urgent reconnection. While the electricity was off, Alex's fridge stopped working and contents were lost. On top of this, the real estate agent which had requested the retailer switch presented them with an electricity bill of almost $450 for the other unit.

When an Assisted Referral didn't resolve the complaint, we opened an Investigation. The retailer recognised that it hadn't taken appropriate steps to reverse the incorrect switch. It provided a customer service payment of $100 and waived all billing for the period it wrongly held Alex's account. It also agreed it hadn't followed the law when it disconnected Alex's electricity. Because the power was off for 7 hours and 39 minutes, Alex would receive a cheque for a Wrongful Disconnection Payment of $159.37. The complaint was closed.

2020-21 snapshots

We received 19,542 cases, down 18% from 2019-20. We believe energy and water companies did a good job of improving their systems and moving quickly to address the smaller issues. For the most part, there were high levels of compassion for the difficult circumstances in which many customers found themselves. Illustrative of this is that 35% fewer credit cases were lodged with us.

Use the map’s zoom controls and drag the map to find the desired area. Hover, click or tap on a council area to see a breakdown of cases and customers.

Use the map’s zoom controls and drag the map to find the desired area. Hover, click or tap on a council area to see a breakdown of cases.

Customers

90% of EWOV cases came from residential customers, 2% of whom identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 55% of the residential customers told us they were homeowners, and 31% told us they were tenants. 10% of cases came from business customers. 72% of customers told us they were from greater Melbourne and 22% said they were from regional/rural Victoria.

The way customers (residential and business) contact us is changing. 59% of customers used EWOV's 1800 number, down from 74% four years ago. 28% used our online complaint form, 7% emailed us, and 6% used the new webchat facility on our website.

Investigation outcomes

3,249 cases (17%) progressed to an EWOV Investigation, with 97% of Investigations closed with 180 days. From our Investigations, $1,657,047 was provided by companies to customers, together with 1,125 written apologies.

Hover over the visualisation for more information.

Electricity

We received 11,801 electricity cases, down 17% from 2019-20. The top 5 electricity issues were high bill, billing error, provision at an existing connection, debt collection/credit default listing, payment difficulties.

Gas

We received 6,046 gas cases, down 23% from 2019-20. The top 5 gas issues were high bill, billing error, debt payment difficulties, collection/credit default listing and estimated bill.

Water

We received 1,525 water cases, down 1% from 2019-20. The top 5 water issues were high bill, fees & charges, property damage, network assets, billing error.

Company data

Small, medium and large companies as defined by Essential Services Commission. Source: Essential Services Commission, Victorian Energy Market Report 2019-20

Small, medium and large companies as defined by Essential Services Commission. Source: Essential Services Commission, Victorian Energy Market Report 2019-20

Glossary

How we group complaint issues:

Billing

Generating and sending customer bills; processing payments; information on bills.

Credit

Disconnections, payment difficulties, payment plan, debt collection, credit rating and default listing.

Customer service

Service, or lack of service, received from the company.

Land

How a company's activities or its network assets impact customers' land or property.

Marketing

The process a gas or electricity retailer uses to win a new customer.

Privacy

Related to the Australian Privacy Principles.

Provision

Connection or disconnection to the network of electricity or gas (including LPG); connection or restriction of water.

Supply

The physical delivery of energy or water, including the quality of supply, variations in supply, failure to supply, and damage caused by the supply or by the failure to supply.

Transfer

When the billing of a gas or electricity supply transfers from one retailer to another.

General enquiry

Cases that do not fit under more specific categories.