Complex complaints rise amid falling case numbers
Published 30 September 2020.
Queensland consumers had a growing number of complex complaints with their energy or water provider last financial year despite a fall in the overall number of cases reported to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ), according to their 2019-2020 Annual Report released today.
Energy and Water Ombudsman Jane Pires said 7621 Queensland residents and small businesses had sought help from her office during 2019-2020, with 70 per cent of complaints about billing disputes or credit-related issues, like payment difficulties, debt collection activity and disconnection.
“Over the past 12 months, energy and water retailers and distributors have dealt with routine matters more effectively through improved internal dispute resolution processes, resulting in an 11 per cent drop in the overall number of cases closed by EWOQ during this period,” she said.
“Despite this, 1897 of our cases escalated to an investigation because of the complexity of the issue – a 16 per cent increase compared with the previous year – and this is an area we’ve added real value by reaching an outcome that is fair and reasonable for both industry and consumers.
“During the 2019-20 financial year, we negotiated $878,849 worth of monetary outcomes for customers, including 963 goodwill gestures, 401 billing adjustments and 102 debt waivers.”
Ms Pires said 84 per cent of cases closed by EWOQ during 2019-2020 had been about electricity, followed by eight per cent about gas and six per cent about water, with 80 per cent of cases from customers in South East Queensland.
“More than half of our complaints last year were billing disputes such as high bills and concerns about estimated bills and rebates and concessions, including an aged pensioner who spent nine months arguing for the electricity rebate to be reapplied to her power bill after she moved house,” she said.
“Credit disputes continue to be a problem for Queenslanders too, including a customer who couldn’t afford a payment plan she’d agreed to so switched retailers to try and avoid disconnection only to be default listed because of the debt she owed to her original retailer.”
Ms Pires said it had been reassuring to see government and industry act quickly to introduce additional protections and measures to ease pressure on consumers in response to COVID-19.
“As the economic effects of the pandemic continue to impact the lives and livelihoods of consumers, we expect our service will play an ever-increasing role in supporting Queenslanders needing help with hardship support, payment plans, and rebates and concessions – many for the first time,” she said.
“If consumers are worried about paying their bills, the best thing they can do is get in touch with their energy or water provider as soon as they can to find out about payment plans and extensions, and any rebates or concessions they may be entitled to.
“If they’re not happy with the outcome or need further support, contact us – the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland – at www.ewoq.com.au or call 1800 662 837 for help.”