We’re excited to share our new website with you. We launched the new site late last month after a detailed development process. The new ewov.com.au will help us reach more people and offer them simpler, more accessible information. We’ve also updated our complaint form to make it easier for people to start a complaint and we’ve made some improvements to the layout of the Data Hub, the home of EWOV case data visualisations.
As always, we’ll be making improvements to the website over time but the launch marks a leap forward for one of the most public faces of EWOV.
We hope you enjoy this edition of EWOV News. If you have any feedback, please let us know.
Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)
Our focus on community outreach and engagement supports our goal of increasing accessibility and awareness of EWOV while building relationships with organisations that work with Victorian energy and water consumers who may be at the greatest risk of experiencing financial vulnerability.
In 2019, we identified priority local government areas for our outreach and engagement work, based on data sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victoria Police and the Department of Social Services. Recently, we looked at how these areas of high vulnerability have been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand the range of issues that may be affecting these communities, and align our engagement with community stakeholder and outreach activities.
Our priority areas represent only 10% of the local government areas of Victoria but, over the past 12 months, have been impacted by 51% of COVID-19 infections. These areas also have some of the highest proportions of JobKeeper recipients in the state.
In the coming months, we’re hosting a Community Stakeholder Roundtable, and will also be running roundtables with energy and water businesses. The roundtables will focus on consumer vulnerability and identifying opportunities for businesses to enhance their processes and approaches to help to address these vulnerabilities. We’ll help key community stakeholders share the lived experiences of their clients and the barriers they may face in engaging with businesses to access support.
We’re interested in running awareness sessions for staff of community organisations and attending outreach events in impacted communities. Please contact our Senior Community Outreach & Engagement Officer, Ruth Harley, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We’ve made a number of improvements to our service following feedback from stakeholders. Recently, we have focused on customers’ expectations from their first contact with EWOV through to investigation. Our surveys ask questions around referral and investigation processes and investigation timeframes so that we can understand how we need to improve our service and how to set expectations. We’ve also been tailoring our service to approach customers through their choice of contact method such as phone, email and letter. We implemented this change after customers expressed a strong desire for us to approach them on their terms.
Solar customers whose complaints fall out of our jurisdiction have expressed dissatisfaction through our surveys. We used this information to improve the way we refer these customers to other agencies (including Consumer Affairs Victoria) and have used their feedback to raise awareness of the gaps in protections in the market and the effect it has on these customers.
We continue to contribute to policy debates across the energy and water sectors, and maintain a high degree of contact with stakeholders at all levels of community, government and industry. We regularly contribute written submissions to consultation processes across a range of issues, and attend forums and host our own ad hoc meetings. In this work, we draw on our own data and casework insights to contribute constructively to policy development, in the interests of resolving energy and water-related complaints and reducing their occurrence.
In February, for example, we convened a joint submission with other state energy and water ombudsmen to respond to Draft Regulations by Federal Treasury establishing a licensing requirement for debt management firms and credit repair companies. We also wrote a substantial submission in response to the Embedded Networks Review Issues Paper, and provided a confidential submission at the request of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to a stakeholder briefing paper for the Energy Fairness Plan reforms.
We’ve been providing weekly briefings on our case activity to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The briefings explore our case data and trends, and the lived experience of some of the customers reaching EWOV.
Recently, we’ve identified an increase in Credit cases, particularly disconnections. This is notable, as disconnection cases dropped dramatically early in the pandemic, after directions from the Essential Services Commission to pause disconnection activity. Credit collection and payment difficulty cases have also been rising in prominence in our case data in recent months, which may be a sign of the increased burden of debt in the industry and with customers due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. That being said, overall case numbers remain low.
While we will have much more to say about it in the next edition of EWOV News, it’s worth noting that social researchers at the Australian National University Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program (BSGIP) are in the final stages of drafting a substantial report jointly commissioned by EWOV and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The Victorian energy and water Ombudsman Investigation of Consumer Experiences (VOICES) Project explores the consumer experience of new energy products and services, and will help position EWOV to assist energy customers in the years and decades ahead as our power system radically transforms. In the midst of such change, the consumer perspective can sometimes be overlooked. The VOICES Project remedies this by directly speaking to end users, and collating their views. The VOICES Report will be released in May 2021, and complements our 2020 Charging Ahead report, as part of our ongoing policy work in this space.