Price rises lift complaints

Janine Young.
Janine Young.

Rising power bills are becoming an increasing problem, with 208 complaints about energy affordability in north western NSW during 2016-17.

A report from the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) showed billing issues made up 30 per cent of total complaints from the region, higher than the state average.

Ms Young said she was very concerned about energy affordability, particularly in light of price increases on July 1, 2017.

“Affordability issues, payment difficulties, high bills, increasing debt and disconnection of supply have become the norm for NSW consumers experiencing financial vulnerability,” ombudsman Janine Young said.

The north western region comprises 11 local government areas including Dubbo, Narromine, Cobar, Walgett, Gilgandra and Warrumbungle.

There were 353 complaints from the region during the last financial year, with 324 relating to electricity, 15 to gas and 13 about water.

Billing was the single biggest issue, but customer service was also a factor with 138 complaints, followed by credit (105), digital meter exchange (30) and transfers (24).

Average complaints per 10,000 people in the region were high at 38, above the NSW average of 34, the report found.

Despite the issues, there was a 6 per cent drop in the number of complaints compared to the previous year and well down from the high of 638 in 2013-14.

Ms Young recently visited Bourke and Brewarrina while EWON’s Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer recently visited Walgett, Coonamble and Goodooga.

She said the ombudsman’s office was aware of the issues that were troubling communities.

“My office has spent time in the region and seen first hand the impact energy affordability is having on people there,” Ms Young said.

“The array of energy offers makes it difficult for customers to find the best deal. Customers on low or fixed incomes in particular, continue to tell us they were not able to take advantage of discounted offers because of compulsory pay-on-time or direct debit conditions. It is promising to see that retailers are now starting to address this.”

Ms Young said the introduction of digital meters had created problems, with common complaints relating to installation delays and meters not being installed.

“We hope the lessons learned during the initial rollout of digital meters will inform the wider Power of Choice rollout that will start on 1 December 2017,” Ms Young said.