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In this edition of EWOV News, we explore an increase in family violence cases, identified through our data analysis. In recent years, we’ve increased staff training on family violence issues and in communicating with victim-survivors. We’re watching the increase in family violence cases carefully, to search for any systemic issues that may need to be investigated further.

We also explore the complaints we receive that relate to the Payment Difficulty Framework (PDF) and the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS), and a recent increase in debt collection cases. We believe in many instances these issues are linked and debt collection may be avoided by timely application of PDF and URGS.

And stay tuned for our upcoming release of VOICES. Commissioned by EWOV and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and conducted by the Australian National University, the report is the result of extensive research with consumers to find out their attitudes, concerns and feelings about the energy transition. VOICES uncovers many implications for the sector, including consumer protection issues.

We hope you enjoy this edition of EWOV News. If you have any feedback, please let us know.

Cynthia Gebert 2

Cynthia Gebert
Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)

When we receive cases where the customer has disclosed family violence, we make a record of family violence in the customer statement in our secure case management software. We do this to ensure that energy and water companies are aware of victim-survivors’ circumstances and factor this into the resolutions offered. From 1 January to 27 May 2021, we received 81 cases where family violence is in the customer statement. This is an increase on the 53 cases received for the period 1 January to 27 May 2020, and a further increase on the 48 cases received from 1 January to 27 May 2019.

The increase may reflect a rise in family violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns, which may have put further financial strain on the resources of victim-survivors and increased the risks of violence. The increase in cases may also be due to retailers failing to listen to victim-survivors, leaving those customers having to come to EWOV for assistance.

We have raised the increase in family violence in our cases with energy and water companies to make sure they are aware of issues in the Victorian community and can focus their efforts on supporting people experiencing family violence, in accordance with their policies. We are watching the individual family violence cases closely to identify any systemic issues that need to be referred to the Essential Services Commission.

We continue to receive complaints involving customers who have not been provided their entitlements under the Payment Difficulty Framework (PDF) and haven’t received timely assistance applying for the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS). We are also seeing an increase in complaints related to debt collection. Our data suggests that the increase reflects a shift to collection through debt collection agencies across the sector – no one retailer stands out in our data.

We believe in many instances these issues may be linked. If customers receive timely assistance under the PDF and are assisted by companies to access URGS, they may avoid unmanageable debt levels that could lead to a debt collection action. Making sure customers are aware of their entitlements and rights under PDF and URGS is an important driver in reducing debt levels and the complaints that we see. Given the economic conditions in Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic, many households that previously would not have qualified for URGS may now be eligible, with a reminder that the criteria for accessing URGS do not rely on the customer to have a concession card.

We will continue to watch PDF, URGS and debt collection cases to determine if any issues are systemic and work with businesses to enhance business processes and practices.

Our new report, VOICES, is set for release soon. Featuring research from the team at the Australian National University’s Battery, Storage and Grid Integration Program, the report explores the experiences of households, businesses and industry experts with new energy products and services. The findings will give the industry fresh insights into the knowledge and motivations of Australians as our energy system changes for the future, including feelings about leadership, experiences with installation and opinions about control of resources. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to find out about the release.

In May, we released the latest edition of Reflect, our regular quarterly report featuring case data and insights, and the first edition of Detect, our new quarterly systemic issues report where we highlight systemic issues we have detected in our case data and trends. You can read about the impact of ‘Dear Occupier’ letters on disconnections, failure to apply URGS and the need for businesses to ensure customers are made aware of EWOV.