Ombudsman helps more than 6000 Queenslanders
Media release published 29 September 2021
More than 6000 Queenslanders contacted the state’s Energy and Water Ombudsman last financial year seeking help to resolve issues with their electricity, gas or water provider, according to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ) 2020-21 Annual Report tabled today.
Queensland’s Energy and Water Ombudsman Jane Pires said her office had closed a total of 6,064 cases during 2020-21, with more than half the complaints investigated during this period related to billing disputes, including high bills, estimated bills, billing errors, and rebates and concessions.
“Almost 60 per cent of the complaints we investigated last year were billing disputes, including a customer we helped halve his power bills by working with his retailer to move him onto a plan better suited to his needs,” she said.
“During 2020-21, 86 per cent of complaints came from customers based in South East Queensland, including 1,023 complaints from Brisbane City Council residents and 555 from the Gold Coast.
“We negotiated almost $800,000 worth of monetary outcomes for customers, including 733 goodwill gestures, 296 billing adjustments and 139 refunds.
“We experienced a 16 per cent increase in Level 3 investigations during the year, which are our most complex complaint type that take more than 8 hours in total to resolve, with the most complex complaint we investigated taking 24.6 hours over three-and-a-half months to reach an outcome that was fair and reasonable for both the customer and the provider.”
Ms Pires said while additional consumer protections introduced in response to COVID-19 had resulted in 20 per cent fewer cases in 2020-21, accrued energy debt was a growing concern as the prolonged economic impact of the pandemic continues to affect the livelihoods of consumers.
“The additional protections energy retailers provided to customers facing payment difficulties, debt collection or disconnection during 2020-21 resulted in a 52 per cent decrease in our credit-related complaints, however, these protections were temporary,” she said.
“While energy providers have programs available to support consumers, we expect credit-related issues like payment difficulties, hardship and debt listings to become increasingly problematic for Queenslanders who have accrued energy debt. We continue to liaise with energy retailers and financial counsellors about this growing area of concern.”
Ms Pires said she expects EWOQ will play an increasing role in supporting Queenslanders to access hardship support, negotiate affordable payment plans, and avoid disconnection in coming months.
“If you’re worried about paying your energy or water bills, the best thing you can do is get in touch with your electricity, gas or water provider as soon as you can and ask about options for payment plans or extensions, and whether there are rebates or concessions you may be entitled to,” she said.
“If you’re not happy with the outcome or need further support, contact us for free, fair and independent assistance by visiting www.ewoq.com.au or calling 1800 662 837 between 8.30am – 5pm weekdays.”