For 20 years, Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria), known as EWOV, has provided free and independent dispute resolution services to Victoria's energy and water customers and companies. Since opening to full operation in May 1996, EWOV has handled just under 600,000 cases. In carrying out its role, EWOV balances case handling processes that are accessible, efficient, fair and impartial, with an operating model that is flexible and responsive.
In 2015-16, EWOV received 36,152 cases, down 28% from 2014-15. Case numbers were the lowest since 2007-08. This is a welcome development that reflects company improvements in internal dispute resolution and customer focus, and fewer problems around billing systems. With more of the straight-forward complaints resolved between the companies and their customers directly, EWOV has shifted back to its intended role as an 'office of last resort'.
63% of the 36,152 cases were about electricity. 87% of electricity cases were retail and 8% were distribution. 30% of cases were about gas — 93% retail, 5% distribution and 1% LPG. 7% of cases were about water.
The most common issues continued to be billing and credit.
In 2015-16, billing cases fell 36% to an eight-year low of 14,643. The fall reflects the end of major billing system implementations by some companies, and overall improvements in internal dispute resolution. High bill was the top sub-issue, followed by error, backbill, tariff and estimation. Billing has always been the biggest source of complaints overall. Over the 20 years, some of the major drivers for billing complaints have included: several instances of major billing systems problems experienced by energy companies, greater billing complexity around the introduction of Full Retail Competition, energy and water price increases, the Smart Meter roll out, solar feed-in tariffs.
In 2015-16, credit cases fell 19% to a four year low of 10,995. The fall reflects a better approach by energy retailers to complaint prevention and to minimising the escalation of less complex hardship complaints through more customer-focused solutions. Energy disconnection/water restriction was the top sub-issue. Over 20 years, EWOV has made a significant contribution to building awareness of affordability issues. Our first conference on financial hardship issues in December 2001 prompted more companies to introduce a customer hardship program. Our introduction of a separate credit issues category from July 2005 focused greater attention on the capacity of customers to pay their bills and stay on supply. Since the beginning, we've drawn on our cases to provide timely, independent and reliable information about financial hardship issues to companies, regulators, government and community representatives.
Overall the top 5 sub-issues were energy disconnection/water restriction, debt collection/credit default listing, high bill, billing error and backbill.
91% of cases were residential and 9% were business/not-for-profit. 71% were from metropolitan Melbourne. 29% were from regional and rural Victoria. Some areas of Victoria stood out. Loddon Shire, Central Goldfield Shire and Murrindindi Shire had the highest rates of residential cases overall. The colder regions of Towong Shire and Alpine Shire had the highest rates of high bill cases. Baw Baw Shire, South Gippsland Shire and Hepburn Shire had the highest rates of energy disconnection cases. Melton Shire, Pyrenees Shire, Wyndham Council and Central Goldfields Shire had the highest rate of debt collection/credit default listing cases.
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