Thanks for reading this mid-year edition of EWOV News. As we head into winter in Victoria, consumers and businesses are facing a number of significant challenges and opportunities. Cost of living and affordability concerns are paramount, as inflation, interest rate rises and energy prices stretch household budgets. At the same time, consumers are looking to save money and change the ways energy is generated and consumed. In Victoria, consumers are driving take-up of renewable sources of energy, leading to the expansion of transmission networks and consumer energy resources like rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles.
We are mindful of the need for consumer protections as Victoria meets these challenges and opportunities. EWOV has an important part to play in supporting trust and confidence in the transition market, ensuring access to free, fair and independent dispute resolution for energy and water consumers.
At this time, it’s important that providers and consumers are aware of the important assistance that is available, and tips on how to save on bills or deal with affordability issues:
- In Victoria, energy and water providers have important responsibilities to you.
- If you’re having trouble paying your energy or water bills, worried you might be disconnected or need help, reach out to your provider.
- There are important protections and penalties in place in Victoria if an energy provider disconnects you unlawfully. If this occurs, you may be entitled to compensation of up to $500 a day.
- If you can’t resolve your issue, please call EWOV on 1800 500 509 or visit us at www.ewov.com.au. We are here to help.
- To save money on energy bills, check if you are getting your provider’s ‘best offer’ – check your most recent bill or call your provider and ask for their best offer.
- Contact your provider to check if you are entitled to: payment plans, concessions, grants like the Utility Relief Grant and other supports.
- You can save money by accessing the $250 Victorian Power Saving Bonus now at www.compare.energy.vic.gov.au
- The Victorian Government has announced additional energy bill relief for eligible consumers of $250 for residential consumers and $325 for small business consumers, to be paid in instalments during 2023 and 2024.
We hope you enjoy this edition of EWOV News. If you have any feedback, please let us know.
Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)
Consumer complaints and concerns about electricity and gas disconnections have been trending down since early 2022. Disconnection should always be a last resort, so it’s encouraging to see this trend continue. With many households facing cost of living pressures, it’s especially important that providers are aware of their important responsibilities and consumers know there is help available. During 2023-2024, we will be focusing on ensuring that consumers are aware of EWOV’s role and that there is help available.
In the month of February 2022, we received 52 imminent disconnection cases and 34 actual disconnection cases. In April 2023, we received 16 imminent disconnection cases and 8 actual disconnection cases, declines of 69% and 76%.
At the same time, billing and credit issues overall remain the main concerns of consumers coming to EWOV. In the January to March 2023 quarter, 63% of all cases were either Billing or Credit cases. We are concerned that consumers facing disconnection due to credit issues may be missing out on the entitlements and assistance available, and may be missing out on the Wrongful Disconnection Payment (WDP) if their energy provider has not followed the rules before disconnecting supply.
WDP is $500 a day (for disconnections after 1 January 2016) and $250 (for disconnections before 1 January 2016). Consumers need to contact their energy provider within 14 days of disconnection, otherwise WDP is capped at $3,500.
If consumers can’t work out the issue directly with their energy or water provider, we may be able to help. Energy and water providers can’t disconnect or restrict supply if consumers have an open complaint with EWOV and we can request providers to reconnect supply while we investigate.
Consumers who need to use equipment for certain medical conditions, such as oxygen concentrators and kidney dialysis machines, have protections in Victoria. These protections came into effect in 2020 and are designed to help maintain the health and safety of affected consumers.
Licensed energy companies and embedded networks in Victoria:
- must provide comprehensive information about rights and processes to life support consumers
- must ask new customers if they are on life support equipment before signing them to an energy plan or re-contracting
- must not disconnect life support consumers
- must use a standardised medical form when registering life support consumers
- must maintain accurate registers of life support consumers and have clear communication processes between retailers, distributors and embedded networks.
These protections apply to customers of licensed energy businesses, such as retailers and distributors of electricity and gas, as well as embedded electricity networks consuming more than 40MWh per year.
As many providers work with consumers who need to operate machines for life support, it’s important for providers to ensure that their systems are safely designed and consumers are getting the right assistance. We have received a number of concerning complaints from consumers about issues relating to life support, such as about the process of registering as a life support customer, notifications about outages and customer services issues.
Read our fact sheet on life support equipment for more information.
The Essential Services Commission (ESC) is the economic regulator responsible for Victoria’s energy and water sector. The ESC has recently released an explainer video about embedded networks and some of the protections applicable to consumers in those networks. The video is an important resource that can be shared with embedded network consumers to help them understand their situation.
Embedded network consumers cannot be charged an amount higher than the Victorian Default Offer (VDO). The VDO operates as a price ceiling for embedded network consumers and is set by the ESC, not the operator. The VDO amount varies according to which distribution zone the embedded network is within.
The video also reminds embedded network consumers that they have the right to come to EWOV with their issue if they are not able to find a resolution with their embedded network operator.
The Victorian Government has announced plans to legislate further reforms for embedded networks in 2023 and 2024, proposing to create a licensing requirement for embedded networks, enhance consumer protections and provide access to competitive retail offers.
In May, we released the latest edition of Reflect, our regular quarterly report featuring case data and insights. We shared our key insights about affordability, noting that 63% of all cases in the January to March 2023 quarter were either Billing or Credit cases. We also shared some areas for improvement in support for victim-survivors of family violence and the effects on consumers of billing delays and backbilling in the current cost-of-living context. As consumers continue to drive the transition to renewable energy sources, we saw complaints about solar issues increase 12% compared to the previous quarter. We’ll be growing these insights during 2023-2024, so stay tuned for more updates.