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Catherine Wolthuizen

"We’ve seen a sharper impact of winter bills this year - high gas bills were up 190% compared with the previous quarter and 92% compared with the July-September quarter last year.”

In the first quarter of the new financial year, we saw clear signs that the cost of living is creating significant affordability issues for consumers.

EWOV usually sees a higher number of cases arising from winter bills. However, our July-September quarter data shows EWOV received our highest quarterly case load volume (5,631) for two years. This was a 61% increase quarter on quarter from April – June, and up 21% on the July-September quarter figures from last year.

High bills were a key driver of our case load this quarter, primarily relating to high gas bills – which were up 190% compared with the previous quarter and 92% compared with same July-September quarter last year. This suggests high gas prices, in combination with higher winter heating usage, has been a key driver of higher billing issues.

In the broader context of record low mortgage affordability and sharp rental increases, we’re seeing these cost-of-living pressures affect households ability to make ends meet [1]. We saw an increase in cases related to both arrears arising from payment difficulty and also around difficulties accessing key entitlements or supports to help prevent payment difficulty.

The rollout of the Commonwealth Government’s Energy Bill Relief is providing some welcome relief to consumers – though it also appears to be exposing concession validation issues in retailer’s systems. As cost-of-living pressures continue, it is crucial that retailers ensure they are providing their customers with the supports they are entitled to.

It has been just over a year since I joined EWOV, and in this time two key themes have stood out – the growing affordability challenge already mentioned, and the policy debate around the accelerating transitioning market. The pace of change in the transitioning energy market has been remarkable, and EWOV has been actively contributing to the policy debate with insights from our case work.

Finally, we released our annual report in early November, including insights into cases we received, analysis of our performance against our strategic priorities, key improvements completed throughout the year, outcomes of our outreach and more. Access the full report here.

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

  • EWOV received 5,631 cases in the July-September quarter, an increase of 61% compared with the April-June quarter (3430). Cases were also up 21% compared with last year, EWOV received 4,673 cases in July–September in 2022.
  • Our latest quarterly data also confirms a change in overall case composition. While electricity cases increased this quarter, we saw a more significant increase in gas cases.
  • Cases about electricity were up 59% this quarter (2914) compared to last quarter (1837), and up 6% compared the July-September quarter last year (2753).
  • Cases about gas were up 93% this quarter (2316) compared to last quarter (1201), and up 47% compared to the July-September quarter last year (1579).
  • This likely reflects the impact of wholesale gas prices flowing through to consumers’ bills since the start of early 2023. [2]
  • Billing cases were up 90% (3227 cases) compared with last quarter (1702 cases) and up 30% compared with the same quarter last year (2478 cases).
  • Credit cases were up 42% (611 cases) compared with last quarter (429 cases) and up 17% compared with last year (522 cases).
  • Consumer complaints about solar products and services increased by 27% in the July–September quarter (283), when compared to the previous April–June quarter (223). Complaints were up 7% compared to this same quarter last year (265).


  • 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

EWOV typically receives a lot of high bill complaints in the July-September quarter as the impact of higher gas usage to heat homes flows through on winter bills.

In this latest quarter, EWOV received a significant increase in the number of high bill cases, particularly related to gas bills, a likely combination of both elevated gas usage over winter with the higher cost of gas creating an outsized impact on consumers bills.

Gas prices have flowed through to consumers bills since the start of the year, resulting in an average 15% increase to the median bill [3]. Tariff increases were led by the three big providers in January and February - AGL and Origin increased their standing offer by 23% while EnergyAustralia standing offers increased 28% [4]. By comparison, some of the medium retailers (Powershop, Dodo and Simply Energy) did not increase standing offers and instead had significant increases in July 2023, while others increased standing offers in both January and July (Alinta, Lumo, Momentum, Red Energy and 1st Energy) [5].

We received 1008 high bill cases, up 116% from 466 cases last quarter, with 68% relating to high gas bills (682 cases) compared with 24% electricity high bill complaints (243 cases). Looking at our quarterly trend data, high gas bill complaints were up 190% this quarter (682 cases) from last quarter (235 cases), and were up 92% from the same quarter last year (356 cases).

Other key billing issues this quarter included:

  • cases relating to a billing error increased 80% this quarter (454 cases) up from last quarter (252 cases)
  • cases relating to a billing tariff issue increased 150% this quarter (428 cases) up from last quarter (171 cases)
  • cases relating to billing estimation issues increased 109% this quarter (301 cases) up from last quarter (144 cases).

High bill complaints can be the consequence of difficulties accessing key entitlements. Our cases show examples of consumers missing out on their concession or difficulty accessing the best available offer resulting in higher than necessary bills.

Our cases from July-September also highlighted growing payment difficulties. EWOV received 313 credit cases related to payment difficulty this quarter, up 109% from last quarter (150 cases). Cases included both problems with access to payment difficulty entitlements and growing arrears.

Our cases highlight a range of reasons for these entitlement errors. These included validation problems due to mismatch in name or address between a retailer’s system and Centrelink systems; a mismatch within a retailer’s system; or by the expiry of a healthcare card or other concession card or moving address, which requires a consumer to have their concession reapplied to the bill.

Consumers who contacted EWOV regarding arrears arising from payment difficulty were often prompted by a recent bill, which was higher than expected, an unaffordable payment plan, or a combination of these issues. Many reported vulnerable circumstances including a loss of income or a period of hospitalisation, while some indicated as refugees they had little support or ability to work. In some cases, providers helped consumers to apply for a Utility Relief Grant (URG), however some consumers flagged they had no income to contribute to a payment plan while the URG was processed.

Cases from the July-September quarter also highlight consumers encountering difficulty accessing customer service centres, or reporting their provider offering a poor explanation of changes or increases to their bill. Customer service issues relating to failure to inform/respond and poor service more generally emerged in our top ten sub issues for the quarter. These complaints include questions or concerns about the provider’s failure to consult or inform the customer or the provider’s lack of response – including cases where the customer sent correspondence to the provider or where the customer was promised a call from a manager but has not received contact.

We received 151 customer service complaints relating to a provider failing to inform or respond promptly to a complaint or issue, up 61% from 94 cases last quarter. Cases indicate these kinds of complaints stem from a range of issues including high bills, tariff changes, billing errors, or meter replacements, but consumers call EWOV due to difficulties reaching call centres for an explanation of these issues.

We received 135 customer service complaints relating to poor service, up 221% from 42 last quarter. There are a range of underlying reasons for these cases, many of which stem from high bills or billing related issues, but again consumers were often driven to call EWOV due to difficulties getting through to the service centre due to long phone wait times.

Consumer stories

Alexandra* – unapplied concession and access to best offer contributes to high bill

Alexandra is dissatisfied with her retailer in relation to a higher than expected gas bill. In May 2023 she received a high bill and contacted her energy provider for a Utility Relief Grant which was approved and applied to her account. In August she received another higher than expected gas bill for $1244.34 and after realising that her concession had not been applied to her most recent bills, contacted her provider to have this applied. Once her concession had been applied, the bill was reduced to $730.57. Despite the reduction, Alexandra’s energy provider was unable to explain why her gas bills continued to increase.

Alexandra contacted EWOV and after we referred her complaint to the providers resolution team, her energy plan was backdated to a cheaper plan which further reduced her balance by $250. The energy provider also organised for the meter to be tested and concluded that this was not the cause and recommended she get the internal gas appliances and fittings checked. Alexandra received advice around how to reduce her gas consumption and was sent information to apply for the power saving bonus.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Janice* - Difficulty applying URGs to outstanding debts

Janice is dissatisfied with her retailer in relation to poor customer service. Janice repeatedly tried to call her retailer to resolve an outstanding bill of $468.72, seeking help applying for leftover URG balance to assist with payment. Initially, her retailer advised that the remaining Utility Relief Grant (URG) balance available was $151.79, and that Janice would be need to pay the remaining $316.93. Janice paid the $316.93, but subsequently received another letter from her retailer outlining the outstanding balance on the account. Janice contacted her retailer again to asked about URGs assistance, but was advised she did not have enough remaining URGs balance. Janice contacted the Concessions Information Line and was advised she still had an URGs balance available - as initially advised by her retailer. Janice called her retailer, who suggested she would need to wait a further 13 months to access URGs again. Janice insisted she had an URGs balance available and her provider indicated $93 was available. She was put on hold for an hour and then the call was dropped. Janice continued to try to contact her provider, but was again put on hold for an hour and the call was then dropped.

After an EWOV investigation, Janice was offered $200 as a Customer Service Gesture, with the outstanding URGs also applied to the current balance on the account. The retailer also noted Janice was on an outdated offer, and noted payment difficulty support was available if required.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Gina* - Payment difficulty with arrears

Gina is dissatisfied with her retailer in relation to hardship assistance on her gas account. Gina received a high bill for $2,003.19 and contacted her provider, which provided a payment extension until 23 August 2023. Gina noted the previous bill was around $290.

Gina recently came out of hospital for surgery and is going through financial hardship, and was concerned the gas will be disconnected. Gina applied for a Utility Relief Grant. She also tried to call her retailer but experienced long wait times and phone disconnections.

After EWOV facilitated an Assisted Referral, the retailer confirmed they sent the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS) forms to Department of Families, Fairness and Housing on 24 August 2023. Gina then received another bill for $448.41, with $203.19 overdue. The retailer apologised for the poor service received, and provided an inconvenience credit of $100.00 to the account. The retailer also placed the electricity account on hold to avoid any issue with customer URGS application. Finally, the retailer has set up a process for the complaints team to contact Gina once the URGs has been applied to set up a suitable payment plan. Gina advised there may be a gas leak and has been referred to report this to her distributor by their retailer.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Community engagement

EWOV Outreach

We focus on community outreach and engagement to increase the accessibility and awareness of EWOV and 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 response to increasing community hardship linked to the cost-of-living crisis, EWOV’s outreach calendar of events expanded during the third quarter of 2023. In July EWOV began a significant new partnership with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). We now provide additional support to their intake and case work teams by working one day a week from their headquarters in Footscray. Since the beginning of this pilot program we have been able to provide invaluable support to some of the most financially disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the Victorian community. EWOV has also delivered energy entitlements training to staff at both the ASRC’s Footscray and Dandenong locations.

EWOV was able to significantly grow awareness of our services when we held an information stand at the International Student Summit in Melbourne Town Hall. At this summit we spoke to newly arrived students from all over the world and provided information and guidance about the Victorian energy and water industry and how to seek assistance from providers. Together with Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) we also exhibited at the two-day Melbourne Care Expo where we spoke to hundreds of individual carers and services from across the disability, health and aged care sectors.

We reached out to Wintringham, a specialised welfare company that provides housing and care to men and women who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. We provided information about financial hardship entitlements to Wintringham’s Metro Health and Human Services Teams to enhance the level of support they can offer their clients. We also continued to work closely with Djirra and visited their new Melton office to participate in the Koori Women’s Program. In August we visited El Amal Women's Group in Meadow Heights where we met a group of Arabic-speaking women and shared advice about concessions and grants, how to interpret a utility bill and where to find best offer information.

Finally, in September EWOV partnered with the Wyndham Humanitarian Network to put on a Bring in Your Issue Day for residents. We invited key stakeholders like AFCA, Consumer Affairs Victoria, Uniting Vic/Tas and Services Australia plus many local services, to provide holistic support and information to the culturally diverse residents of Wyndham. We also participated in two hugely successful community events organised by South East Community Links. The first, in Dandenong, had widespread media coverage and EWOV was able to assist many community members with their concession queries and concerns about utility bill payments and ongoing affordability. The second event in Noble Park was targeted at people aged 25 or younger and was designed to provide support and assistance for young people in the community who are experiencing disadvantage to achieve better outcomes.

Financial Counsellors Victoria Conference

On 13th October at the Financial Counsellors Victoria Conference in Lorne, Ombudsman Catherine Wolthuizen participated in a panel explaining EWOV’s role and considering the current affordability challenge facing consumers.

Other participants included Australian Financial Complaints Authority CEO and Chief Ombudsman, David Locke, and Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert. The panel discussion was facilitated by Peter Gartlan.

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EWOV's role in the transitioning energy market

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

Also in October, Ombudsman Catherine Wolthuizen participated in a panel considering key issues facing consumers in the transitioning energy market at the All Energy forum. The panel was moderated by Luke Menzel (Energy Efficiency Council), and also included Stan Krapan (Solar Victoria), Emma Lucia (3E Group) and Katherine McConnell (Brighte) pictured below. Catherine highlighted the importance of consumer trust and confidence in the transitioning market, and flagged the importance of a role for EWOV to provide experienced, independent dispute resolution in the transitioning energy market.

“The energy transition can be seen as a good news story for consumers. But consumers need effective protections, clear and trusted information, and a clear pathway to dispute resolution when things go wrong to keep it a good news story

EWOV’s recent submissions further point to the need for consumer protections and a clear pathway to EDR across the consumer journey.

In focus: Consumer Energy Resources

In recent months regulators and policymakers have sought input on a consumer protections framework that is fit for purpose for the transitioning energy market. In our various submissions to policymakers and regulators, EWOV has highlighted key insights from our cases (see below), demonstrating growing complexity for consumers to understand the issues emerging with these products and services, and the difficulty disentangling issues arising from “traditional” retail energy relationships. While solar PV has already seen significant uptake, we are seeing consumers take up new and emerging Consumer Energy Resources (CER) such as home batteries, Electric Vehicles (EVs) and demand response enabled appliances like hot water, air conditioners and pool pumps, which often sit outside Ombudsman jurisdiction.

In our submissions, EWOV has called for a consumer protection framework that incorporates new and emerging CER products and services alongside traditional retail energy provision.

EWOV has also called for a clear pathway to free and effective external dispute resolution throughout the consumer journey for energy products and services, to build consumer trust and confidence in markets for emerging CER products and services.

For Victoria, where approximately 75% of houses have a mains gas connection, households are likely to transition their gas appliances to all electric heating, cooking and or hot water equivalents in the coming years[6]. However, consumers already seeking to electrify their homes by replacing gas hot water with electric heat pump hot water systems often report difficulties with installations.


Issue with heat pumps hot water installation– out of jurisdiction

Ahmed* called EWOV and explained that he installed a [heat pump] hot water system with a provider in 2021. Ahmed noticed a leak in the system in May 2022 and advised that after many attempts to contact the provider it finally sent someone on the 23 July 2022. Ahmed told EWOV he has not had hot water since 2 August 2022. He contacted the installer again, he again explained the issue to the company, and they informed him that someone would be in contact. Ahmed then arranged for a plumber to repair the unit directly, but was advised only the installer could repair the appliance because no one else could get the required parts. Ahmed made inquiries with two other plumbers who said the same thing. As the issue was out of jurisdiction, EWOV referred Ahmed to CAV.

*Name has been changed for privacy

The use of distributed storage and demand response has also been identified as a key component of the renewables-based grid – which is likely to expose some consumers to unexpected actions by providers. Case studies indicate consumers may not fully understand how retailers will utilise consumer’s batteries through Virtual Power Plants - contracts can be highly conditional but the terms vary greatly between providers, resulting in consumer frustration and expectations not being met. Effective and comprehensible information needs to be provided to consumers about how and when devices will be accessed, and robust protections and access to redress for adverse outcomes will be essential to build consumer support and trust in these arrangements.


Failure to provide clear information around Virtual Power Plant use of battery – in jurisdiction

Gary* contacted EWOV with a complaint about his retailer and a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) agreement he had struck. The VPP agreement entailed selling energy from Gary’s battery into the grid once the spot market price exceeded a standard feed in tariff rate, when his battery was full and when the VPP software “deems it appropriate according to [your] household's energy usage patterns”. When the VPP discharged from Gary’s battery, he was paid a Trading Credit in lieu of this feed in tariff, at the spot market price.

Gary raised a number of issues in his complaint. First, the VPP provider drew his battery down to 15% by 8pm each night, requiring him to draw from the grid directly at a higher price. Second, Gary advised he had been paid very little in trading credits, well exceeding the cost to recharge his battery after these discharge events. While Gary was provided access to the VPP software forecasting discharge events, the provider did not give him information about how and when they had utilised his battery to export into the grid, and without this information, Gary was unable to determine whether he has received the correct benefit. Third, Gary had repeatedly tried to call the VPP to discuss the issue and was unable to get through.

Through an EWOV Assisted Referral the retailer agreed an error had been made, but was unable to document exactly when the VPP software had accessed Gary’s battery to discharge to the grid, or provide a true reconciliation of how much energy had been discharged to the grid at what value. The retailer provided Gary a $400 customer service gesture and EWOV was able to confirm Gary was not left out of pocket.

*Name has been changed for privacy

The uptake of EVs presents a significant opportunity to help reduce emissions, particularly where vehicles can be used as a home battery or feed excess energy back into the grid[7]. Consumers can reduce their energy bills charging their EV when there is excess renewable energy in the grid and either using this during evening peak period or even feeding this back to the grid for a premium feed in tariff. However, innovative (and often complex) tariffs create the potential for new problems for consumers. EWOV has already seen examples of consumer complaints around EV tariffs, however there are a range of other kinds of issues that currently sit outside our jurisdiction.


Issue with innovative EV tariff, submeter and backbill

Jerry* called EWOV in 2019 with a complaint about his retailer regarding a higher than expected bill. Jerry signed a contract for an Electric Vehicle plan of $1 per day for electric vehicle charging. Jerry confirmed that to access this rate, he paid $431 for installation of active stream digital submeter. His electrician advised he would return to install an antenna, as the smart meter didn’t have reception in the basement. The electrician did not return, so Jerry is receiving bills for the un-discounted amount. Jerry’s retailer advised it would look into it and place his account on hold while it investigated. However, Jerry received a back bill from August 2018 for $5,700. Jerry has a direct debit set up for the account, which was scheduled to come out of is bank account on the 16 January 2020 but Jerry advises he does not have $5,700 available in that account. Jerry has also flagged did not believe the retailer could issue a backbill for more than nine months.

Resolution following EWOV assisted referral:

Jerry’s retailer confirmed there were errors in applying the $1.00 a day Electric Vehicle charge to customers’ accounts. The retailer has confirmed they are manually adjusting the billing each quarter and have applied a manual adjustment of $4373.51 credit to the account. The retailer advised they were working with the meter provider to remove the sub meter on site and once removed will discuss plans available to the customer. Jerry was happy to keep liaising with the retailer case manager to resolve their concerns moving forward and adjust any future billing up until the sub meter is removed, and advised he was satisfied with the outcome.

*Name has been changed for privacy


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[1] Melissa Heagney-Bayliss and Tawar Razaghi, “Young families hit hardest as mortgage affordability the worst since 1990”, The Age, November 9, 2023,;
Cait Kelly, “Victorians lodge record 5,400 challenges to rent increases over past 12 months”, The Guardian, 1st Nov 2023,

[2] Angela Macdonald-Smith, “AGL, Origin hit households with big gas price rises”, Australian Financial Review, 9th Jan 2023, available online

[3] Essential Services Commission, Victorian Energy Market Report: September 2023, October 2023, p 18. Available online at
[4] St Vincent de Paul Society and Alviss Consulting Pty Ltd Victorian Energy Prices July 2023 - An update report on the Victorian Tariff-Tracking Project, September 2023, p 8. Available:
[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Energy Networks Australia, Reliable and clean gas for Australian homes, July 2021, p. 2

[7] AEMO, Inputs, Assumptions and Scenarios Report, 59; ECA, Stepping Up.