Power bills problematic for Cairns region

1 October 2020

Concerns about power bills was the leading reason consumers in the Cairns region contacted the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ) last financial year, with billing disputes accounting for 40 per cent of complaints from the region during 2019-2020.

Following the release of EWOQ’s 2019-2020 Annual Report yesterday, Energy and Water Ombudsman Jane Pires said these consumers were among 7621 Queensland residents and small businesses from across the state who had sought help from her office last financial year.

“With 139 cases, the Cairns Regional Council local government area was among the top 10 locations in Queensland in terms of the total number of cases brought to EWOQ in 2019-2020,” Ms Pires said.

“Across the region, we received 196 contacts from Cairns, Cassowary Coast, Douglas, Mareeba, Tablelands and Yarrabah local government areas last year from customers requiring help with billing, credit and connection issues.

“Forty per cent of complaints from the Cairns region last year were billing disputes, including concerns about high bills and estimated bills, followed by credit-related issues including power disconnections, payment difficulties and hardship.”

Ms Pires said while there had been an 11 per cent decrease in EWOQ’s overall caseload across Queensland in 2019-2020, the number of complex complaints escalating to an investigation had increased by 16 percent during this period compared with the previous financial year.

“Our statewide case data demonstrates energy and water providers managed routine matters more effectively over the past 12 months but when issues were complex – as for 1897 of our customers – we helped reach an outcome that was fair and reasonable for both industry and the consumer,” she said.

“We negotiated $878,849 worth of monetary outcomes for customers during 2019-2020, including 963 goodwill gestures, 401 billing adjustments and 102 debt waivers, with 84 per cent of the cases we closed problems with electricity, followed by eight per cent about gas and six per cent about water.”

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, rebates and concessions – many for the first time,” she said.

“If consumers are worried about paying their power bill, the best thing they can do is get in touch with Ergon 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.”