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Catherine Wolthuizen

"Cases about gas were up 15% this quarter compared to last quarter - notably we saw an increase in high gas bills"

Over the last two quarters we received a similar number of cases largely driven by similar underlying issues, though with some key differences.

Billing issues remain a primary driver of our case load accounting for 50% of cases this quarter. But we saw a noticeable shift in the underlying composition of cases we received. High bill cases, which increased significantly over the quarter, were predominantly driven by gas high bills rather than electricity.

Credit issues accounted for 12% of all cases, slightly down compared to the previous quarter. However, there was a jump in the number of disconnection cases across the quarter - doubling from a low in April of 25 disconnection cases up to 50 disconnection cases in June. This reversed a downward trend over much of the previous year.

Surging high bill cases may prove to be a lead indicator with higher credit and disconnection cases to follow in subsequent quarters if consumers can’t keep up with rising costs and begin to accrue arrears. It’s important for energy retailers to be proactive in reaching out to consumers with the payment difficulty supports they are entitled to.

Read on for more detail in the latest edition of Reflect. As always, you can find more data relating to our casework in the Data Hub.

The big picture

  • While we received only slightly more cases in the April-June quarter (3443) compared with the previous January to March quarter (3384), the types of issues consumers are contacting us about signal ongoing price sensitivity in the current climate. Cases were slightly up (3%) compared with the April to June quarter in 2022 (3335).
  • Within the quarter, we received a 61% increase in cases from April (848) to June (1369). Our trend data indicates we often receive the fewest number of cases in April – which may be due to a combination of milder weather conditions reducing the need for heating and cooling, as well as Easter and ANZAC Day public holidays which reduce EWOV call volumes.
  • The proportion of electricity and gas cases as a total has shifted. We received far fewer electricity cases and far more gas cases in the April-June quarter compared to January-March quarter, or compared with the April-June quarter in 2022.
  • Cases about electricity were down 6% this quarter (1847) compared to last quarter (1969), and down 10% compared the April-June quarter last year (2045).
  • Cases about gas were up 15% this quarter (1202) compared to last quarter (1048), and up 28% compared to the April-June quarter last year (937).
  • This likely reflects the impact of wholesale gas prices flowing through to consumers’ bills since the start of early 2023. Notably, electricity price increases had not yet flowed through to consumers’ bills in this quarter.


  • Reflect and Data Hub data is a ‘live’ view of case data up to the end of the previous period.
  • Cases can sometimes be amended, reopened and reallocated — adjustments made to cases in previous quarters will be shown in the previous quarter’s figures within the visualisations.
  • For these reasons, there may be discrepancies between previous quarter data presented in the visualisations and the information presented in past editions of Reflect.

Issues watch

Billing cases accounted for the bulk of EWOVs case load in the April-June quarter, making up 50% of total EWOV cases. Comparing quarter-on-quarter, billing cases were slightly up 4% this quarter (1707 cases) compared to last quarter (1641 cases).

The increase in billing cases this quarter was primarily driven by a 19.5% rise in gas billing cases (from 609 to 728 cases), and to a lesser extent by a 12% increase in water billing cases (from 157 to 176 cases). By comparison, the number of electricity cases declined 8.4% (from 873 to 800 cases). Comparing the quarter year-on-year, billing cases were up 17.6% compared to the same quarter last year (1452 cases received in April-June 2022).

Across fuel types, the top billing sub-issues for the quarter were:

  • High Bills – 454 cases, up 19.5% from 380 cases last quarter;
  • Billing Errors – 250 cases, slightly up 1.2% from 247 cases last quarter;
  • Tariffs – 170 cases, down 21.7% from 217 cases last quarter;
  • Fees and charges – 165 cases, slightly down 3.6% from 171 last quarter; and
  • Estimation – 147 cases, up 17.6% from 125 cases last quarter.

EWOV received a larger number of high gas bills in the last quarter, underpinning the higher billing caseload compared with both last quarter and compared with April-June 2022. This is likely due to a combination of factors. Winter bills are on average higher than those in other seasons for both electricity and gas – and gas bills are significantly higher in winter than in summer due to increased heating use.[1] At the start of 2023, energy retailers announced price increases for gas bills. For some consumers, the combination of their usual, season winter heating with a new underlying price increase may have prompted their call to EWOV.

[1] Australian Energy Council, Winter energy bills: Avoid a shock, 29 April 2021,

Credit cases accounted for 12% this quarter. Comparing quarter-on-quarter, credit cases were down 14% this quarter (429) compared with last quarter (499). The decrease in credit cases is largely driven by a 19.8% fall in electricity related credit cases (from 313 to 251 cases), while gas-related credit cases fell 4.9% (from 164 to 156 cases) and water rose 10% though this was off a small base (from 20 to 22 cases). Comparing the quarter year-on-year, credit cases were down 14.5% compared to the same quarter last year (502 cases received in April-June 2022). Noting the fall in credit cases, the top three credit sub-issues across fuel types for the quarter were:

  • Collections – 156 cases, down 26.8% from 213 cases last quarter;
  • Payment difficulties - 149 cases, down 17.2% from 180 cases last quarter; and
  • Disconnection/Restriction – 122 cases, up 15.1% from 106 cases last quarter.

Disconnection cases – which includes cases relating to imminent disconnection and also cases relating to actual disconnections - jumped from 25 cases in April to 46 in May, and 50 in June, reversing the downward trend through much of the last financial year to April 2023. The change between months was driven by an increase in imminent disconnection cases, while actual disconnection cases remained steady month-on-month.

Provision cases account for 11% this quarter. Comparing quarter-on-quarter, provision cases were down 3.4% this quarter (367) compared with last quarter (380). The fall in provision cases is largely driven by a 13.6% fall in electricity-related provision cases (from 272 to 235 cases), while gas-related provision cases increased 10.9% (92 to 102 cases). Water-related provision cases rose 93.3% though this was off a small base (from 15 to 29 cases). Comparing the quarter year-on-year, provision cases were down 18.6% compared to the same quarter last year (451 cases received in April-June 2022). Noting the fall in provision cases, the top three provision sub-issues across fuel types for the quarter were:

  • Existing Connections – 201 cases, down 12.2% from 229 cases last quarter;
  • New Connections – 135 cases, up 32.4% from 102 cases last quarter; and
  • Disconnection/Restriction – 30 cases, down 33.3% from 45 cases last quarter.

Provision cases received include issues related to connection of a newly built property to the grid, connecting a solar system to the grid, or upgrading a solar system or reconfiguring a meter for a solar installation. This kind of issue can often affect small businesses as well as residential customers and can be complicated due to distributed responsibility for the problem - it often involves an interaction or communication breakdown between the complainant’s retailer and distributor.

Consumer stories

Ali* called EWOV with a complaint about his provider due to a high bill. Ali received an unexpected high bill of $561.57 for a two-month billing period. Ali advised the previous bill was approximately $250 and believes the household usage has declined. Ali is experiencing financial difficulty and can’t afford to pay the new bill. Ali has tried to contact his provider for assistance via email but had received no response by the time he called EWOV.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Angie* called EWOV to complain she had received an imminent disconnection notice and warning of debt collection activity, despite an active direct debit on the account. Each time Angie tried to contact her provider the wait times were significant and she was unable to reach a representative. Angie lodged a complaint online but the matter was still unresolved. After EWOV escalated the matter through an Assisted Referral, the retailer apologised directly to Angie for the error and acknowledged their customer service was poor. They helped her update her direct debit, and confirmed there was no impact to Angie's credit file nor had the collections agent taken any collections activity.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Harvinda* called EWOV with a complaint about his distributor in relation to connection delays and customer service. Harvinda arranged for the distributor to get his electricity connected to their property. Harvinda’s electrician raised a request for a new connection in May 2023 with all the paperwork completed. The service order for the NMI allocation was completed, however, the distributor rejected the service order on the day it was due without an explanation. Harvinda’s retailer then raised a new service request. The distributor gave Harvinda multiple dates that the power would be connected, however, the connection never occurred. The most recent service order was due to be completed in mid-June 2023. The distributor advised Harvinda that it did not know when the connection would be completed and that it would try to schedule a sub-contractor. Harvinda contacted the distributor’s complaints department in writing but received no response. Harvinda advised the lack of electricity had delayed the completion of his new home, and consequently he incurred additional expenses for temporary accommodation.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Community engagement

We focus on community outreach and engagement to increase the accessibility and awareness of EWOV, to improve Victorians’ experiences of energy and water markets. Our outreach work helps to build relationships with organisations that work with Victorian energy and water consumers who may be at the greatest risk of experiencing financial and other vulnerabilities.

In the second quarter of 2023, EWOV provided outreach in the Victorian community at “Bring Your Bills” days in Broadmeadows and Tarneit, the Financial Counselling Australia Conference in Canberra and the Koori Women's Program with Djirra. We were able to share practical information to some of the most vulnerable consumer groups, connect people with referrals for further support and liaise with other organisations.

Each of these events provided EWOV opportunity to connect with consumers who are facing difficulties interpreting bills, those experiencing payment difficulties and/or consumers seeking support with communicating with their utility company. We continue to engage with consumers raising awareness about possible entitlements such as concessions, grants, and other supports available under the Victorian Payment Difficulty Framework. We continue to highlight the importance of consumers engaging with their utility companies to ensure they are receiving appropriate supports to assist with affordability and are receiving the most cost-effective tariff option for their circumstances.

EWOV Community Consultation Group

In May, we relaunched our Community Consultation Group with a refreshed and broadened composition of community organisations. After introducing Ombudsman Catherine Wolthuizen, we listened to recent experiences and concerns from our members with key insights from organisations also supporting consumers on the frontline. Key insights included:

- renters are reporting increasing difficulties with rising gas bills;

- international students are struggling to manage energy costs without access to concessions or URGs, and are particularly vulnerable in a tight rental market;

- defaults on consumers’ credit reports create a barrier to accessing cheaper tariffs; and

- consumers on disability support pension have little ability to afford any energy price increases, and may have not have the ability to self-advocate if they face payment difficulty.

At our next Community Consultation Group later this year, we will share some of EWOV’s insights from our data about current and emerging consumer experiences of the energy and water markets, our future reports and approaches during this important year.

Forthcoming policy insights reports

As part of EWOV’s ongoing focus on growing and sharing our unique insights, we will share deeper insights from our data on a periodic basis throughout the year. Key forthcoming reports will focus on consumers’ ability to access supports that support energy affordability, and consumer experiences of the transitioning energy market.


Affordability case study: Jerome* - difficulty validating concession card

Jerome called EWOV with a complaint about his retailer regarding an unapplied concession. Jerome explained the address on his concession card matches the meter, but his retailer advises this does not match the service address. The retailer told Jerome he needs to contact Centrelink to change address on his concession. Jerome followed this instruction but now the retailer cannot apply concession as it doesn't match the address on the meter. Jerome requested a callback from a manager, was initially told to expect a callback within 24 hours, but received no call.

After an EWOV Assisted Referral, the retailer apologised and noted there was an issue with a mismatch in the postcode. The retailer confirmed the consumer’s concession has been applied to their gas and electricity bill, a Customer Service Gesture has been applied to the gas account, the consumer’s concessions have been backdated, and that no further contact with Centrelink is required.

*Name has been changed for privacy


Transitioning markets case study: Kathleen* – faulty installation, poor customer service and potentially misleading conduct

Kathleen called EWOV to make a complaint about her solar installer. Kathleen had her old solar panels removed and a larger solar system installed after recent inspection by a solar installer. She was advised by the installer that she would only pay approximately $75 per panel. Kathleen advised EWOV that she has been paying for the panels for three months and her energy bills are not any different to what they were previously. Kathleen contacted the solar installer numerous times regarding this issue and it keeps promising to send someone to inspect the solar system, but no one has come as yet. Kathleen also advised that the solar installation and connection has happened with appalling service and delay in connection. She told EWOV that the only reason she went ahead with the installation was advice from the installer that she would not have a power bill [sic] if she did not let the provider come back to install more panels.

*Name has been changed for privacy

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EWOV's role in the transitioning energy market

Ombudsman on a consumer panel at the Clean Energy Council CEO forum

In June, Ombudsman Catherine Wolthuizen participated in a timely panel and key discussion session at the Clean Energy Council CEO Forum, alongside panelists Penelope Crossley (Lecturer at Sydney Law School), Rob Mcleod (ReNew) and Melissa McAuliffe (ECA), pictured below. Catherine shared EWOV’s key insights about the consumer experience of distributed energy resources, and looked ahead to a fit-for-purpose role for EWOV to provide experienced, independent dispute resolution in the transitioning energy market.

“Our out-of-jurisdiction cases show how consumers are bounced around between different bodies and providers when they have an issue with their solar PV system. Consumers often don’t know which part of the system is broken and it can take EWOV a couple of days to work out what or even where the issue is. We have to be realistic about how much consumer education is viable and develop a system with effective dispute resolution that helps to build trust and confidence in the transitioning market”.

The Ombudsman on Watts Next? - Building trust and social licence

In August, Ombudsman Catherine Wolthuizen appeared on Energy Consumer Australia’s Watts Next? Podcast. Catherine explained the new Modern Ombudsman approach that has been adopted at EWOV - going beyond conciliation of individual complaints to improve outcomes for the largest number of consumers by influencing retailers as well as the wider network of policymakers and regulators.

Catherine also talked to the importance of building trust and social licence to facilitate the energy transition. Under the current policy settings, consumers are expected to play a more active role in the market for new energy technologies and systems. In order to enable choice, and consumer confidence to engage effectively, we need to design markets that work for people. This means a straightforward pathway to redress through a principles-based regulatory approach to deliver a safe and dependable energy future that benefits everyone.

Banning Telemarketing under the Victorian Energy Upgrades program - consultation paper - July 2023

We provided a submission to the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action on banning Telemarketing under the Victorian Energy Upgrades. Though mostly ‘out of jurisdiction’, EWOV receives a small number of complaints from consumers about issues with providers under the VEU program. Complaints regarding telemarketers include consumers reporting being hassled by telemarketers and telemarketers failing to identify the company they’re calling from, and cases where providers have tried to install in-home monitoring devices without the consumer’s explicit consent. We provided support for the proposed ban and suggested the ban on telemarketing should be extended to door-knocking.

Submission to ESC on the draft Land Access Code of Practice – July 2023

We provided a submission to the Essential Services Commission on the proposed Victorian Land Access Code of Practice. Implementing a Land Access Code of Practice in Victoria will improve outcomes for landholders and electricity transmission companies by more clearly defining rights and responsibilities and facilitating access to EWOV’s experienced and independent dispute resolution when complaints cannot be resolved directly between the parties. EWOV provided several suggestions on the Draft Code, including, for example, to aid electricity transmission companies to improve the accuracy of information communicated to consumers; complaint-recording; and record keeping.

Improving outcomes for victim-survivors of family violence

ESC enforceable undertaking and joint sectoral leadership event

In June, the Essential Services Commission (ESC) accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from South East Water over allegations it failed to uphold critical protections in place to support customers affected by family violence. This was a systemic issue first identified by EWOV and referred to the Commission for further investigation. EWOV will continue to watch cases and investigations relating to family violence matters closely.

This referral, and its outcome, highlights the important work of an ombudsman scheme in sharing insights to improve outcomes for a broader cohort of consumers.

Continuing our work as a market steward, seeking to prevent harms and influence broader improved outcomes for consumers and markets, we were pleased to facilitate our first joint sectoral leadership event with the ESC on 29 August 2023 – the ESC & EWOV Family Violence Leaders Forum. The Forum provided a unique opportunity to discuss the importance of shifting from information disclosure as a pillar of consumer protection towards safe design, including policy settings and controls and to support safe outcomes of family violence-victim survivors. It also offered an important platform to consider the ways in which water and energy providers can reduce the barriers consumers may face when they need or actively reach out for assistance, particularly in the context of family violence.

We will continue to monitor these important issues, working together with a range of organisations to play our role in improving outcomes for everyone who comes in contact with the Victorian energy and water markets.

You can read ESC's media release here.


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