Our service

Dispute resolution

At a glance

EWOQ helps Queenslanders resolve disputes with their electricity, gas and water providers.

When a customer contacts us, we listen to their issue and classify it as a general enquiry, refer them to another organisation or back to their energy or water provider, refer the case to a higher level with their provider, or investigate the matter.

Of the 6,064 cases we closed in 2020-21:

  • 30% were referred back to an energy or water provider
  • 27% were referred to a higher level (RHL) within the energy or water provider
  • 20% were investigated
  • 13% were referred to another organisation
  • 9% were general enquiries

Please note, figures do not add up to 100% due to rounding.

In detail

As a free, fair and independent dispute resolution service, our approach is based on the principles of alternative dispute resolution.

We seek to establish the facts and issues to help our customers and their provider better understand the problem at hand, and each other’s point of view.

The outcome of a complaint may be achieved by agreement between the customer and the provider,
or through conciliation based on what we deem as a fair and reasonable outcome.

Our service was established to assist customers who use less than 160 megawatt hours of electricity per year or one terajoule of gas per year. In South East Queensland, we also help residential water customers and small businesses with water consumption less than 100 kilolitres a year.

We can investigate unresolved disputes about:

  • problems with payment
  • account errors and disputes
  • disconnections and restrictions
  • damages and loss
  • energy marketing
  • energy contract issues
  • vegetation management
  • supply quality and reliability
  • extensions to supply
  • connection of supply
  • customer service issues
  • guaranteed service levels
  • equipment issues
  • burst pipes, leaks, blockages and spills.

All contacts we receive are called cases. This year, there was a 20 per cent decrease in the total number of cases closed from the previous year.

A significant impact on the decrease of cases was the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) Statement of Expectations and theadditional protections it offered customers facing debt collection or disconnection.

As a result, there was a 52 per cent decrease in credit-related cases.

General enquiries decreased by 22 per cent, referrals to other organisations decreased by 12 per cent and refer backs to energy and water providers dropped by 15 per cent.

For complaints, Level 3 investigations increased by 16 per cent whereas referral to higher level cases dropped by 16 per cent. Level 1 investigations decreased by 47 per cent and Level 2 by 10 per cent.

Case: any contact a customer has with EWOQ, including general enquiry, refer back to supplier, referral to higher level, investigation, or referral to another organisation.

Complaint: cases that are billed to a scheme participant i.e. refer back to supplier, referral to higher level and investigations.

For disputes outside our jurisdiction, we have memoranda of understanding (MoU) with the following organisations to ensure timely exchange of information and referral of cases, where relevant:

  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
  • Australian Energy Market Commission
  • Australian Energy Regulator
  • Department of Energy and Public Works
  • Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water
  • Office of Fair Trading
  • Queensland Competition Authority
  • Queensland Ombudsman.

Issues we refer to these organisations include:

  • the fixing of prices or tariffs
  • a customer contribution to the cost of capital works
  • products such as air conditioners, hot water systems, solar panels and home electrician services offered by electricity retailers
  • on-selling of energy or water to tenants in caravan parks, retirement villages and other multi-tenanted dwellings (embedded networks)
  • bottled LPG (liquefied petroleum gas)
  • electricity consumption of more than 160 megawatt hours a year
  • gas consumption of more than one terajoule a year
  • water consumption of more than 100 kilolitres a year for small businesses
  • metered standpipes, raw water supplies, tradewaste, stormwater harvesting or stand-alone recycled water.

During 2020-21, 13 per cent of the cases we closed (792 cases) were within the jurisdiction of other government authorities.

More than half (55 per cent) of these cases were referred to the Office of Fair Trading, including complaints about bulk hot water, bottled gas and solar installation.

Referrals to the AER increased this year, accounting for 32 per cent of referrals.

Key data

EWOQ 2020-21 case types graph

2021%
1. General enquiry5749.5%
2. Referral to other organisation79213.1%
3. Refer back1,81930.0%
4. Referral to higher level1,64227.1%
5. Level 1 Investigation70511.6%
6. Level 2 Investigation4287.1%
7. Level 3 Investigation1041.7%
8. Final order00%

Investigations

Level 1 57.0%

Level 2 34.6%

Level 3 8.4%

Final orders

No final orders were issued this year. Final orders may be issued by the Ombudsman if a matter cannot be resolved via negotiation or conciliation.

See Appendix 1 for figures.

Complaint stages

This process escalates a complaint to a higher level within the energy or water provider. We prepare a referral to higher level (RHL) notice with a summary of the customer’s issue for the provider, who are required to contact the customer within five business days.

If contact is not made, or the problem remains unresolved, customers can request us to investigate. This was previously offered as an option to the customer, however from 4 May 2021, a new early resolution dispute process was implemented and an early resolution team member now determines whether the matter is escalated as an RHL or referred to the investigations team to investigate.

Once an investigation commences, we prepare a notice of investigation which details the customer’s issue. The provider is required to respond back to us within 10 business days.

The investigation officer will liaise between the customer and provider to achieve a fair and reasonable resolution. Where our investigation determines the provider’s actions were appropriate, the complaint will be closed and the parties advised of the decision and our reasons. Where an error is found, we will try to negotiate a suitable outcome, for example:

  • a payment plan for an overdue account
  • reconnection of energy supply
  • compensation for damage to equipment.

If we cannot achieve informal resolution of the complaint, the matter may be finalised in a number of ways.

Firstly, a decision can be made under section 22 of the Act not to investigate or to discontinue an investigation. There were 30 cases finalised this way in 2020-21.

Secondly, if a matter cannot be resolved by negotiation or conciliation, the Energy and Water Ombudsman may decide to make a final order requiring an energy or water supplier to take certain action.

Among other things, the Ombudsman can order energy and water suppliers to:

  • pay compensation
  • provide a non-monetary solution to remedy the dispute
  • amend a stated charge under the Act
  • cancel a negotiated contract
  • perform corrective work.

No final orders were issued in 2020-21.

Notice of withdrawal

A customer can withdraw a case during its investigation. There were four notices of withdrawal during 2020-21.

Time taken to resolve cases

This year, we exceeded our service standard targets of closing 80 per cent of cases in 28 days, 90 per cent within 60 days, and 95 per cent within 90 days.

We closed 87 per cent (5,249 cases) in less than 28 days, 98 per cent of cases in less than 60 days (5,937 cases) and 99 per cent of cases in less than 90 days (6,029 cases).

During 2020-21, we continued to keep our referral to higher level (RHL) cases open longer to ensure the actions of the energy or water provider were completed to the satisfaction of the customer.

The increase in the percentage of cases closed within 28 days this year demonstrates our continued commitment to maintain our service delivery standards while also improving our service for customers.

While there was a drop in the overall number of RHLs and investigations this year, Level 3 investigations increased by 16 per cent.

This is an indication that the complaints we receive are becoming more complex in nature, requiring more in-depth investigation, while more routine matters are being dealt with more effectively by the energy and water providers, reducing the need to seek our services for less complicated issues.

Key data

Performance targets – time taken to close cases

Target2020-21
Less than 28 days80%5,249      87%
Less than 60 days90%5,937      98%
Less than 90 days95%6,029      99%
More than 90 days<5%35            1%

Quality assurance

We conducted regular quality assurance assessment cycles and introduced additional quality control activities throughout 2020-21.

More than 700 cases were assessed during the period to ensure our practices are accurate, efficient, consistent and of a high standard. In September 2020, we appointed a senior quality officer to review and develop a new quality assurance framework, undertake case assessments, provide feedback and record recommendations to improve quality assurance reporting.

From July to November 2020, we continued a four-week quality assurance cycle. This included monthly case assessments, feedback to team members, monthly reports for managers and a quality review of Level 3 cases. During this time, 174 cases were reviewed.

From February to June 2021, the four-week quality assurance cycle focused on consistency and improvement. Regular quality control measures, monthly Level 3 case reviews and a quality assurance action register were introduced. During this time, 584 cases were reviewed, and 44 recommendations identified for discussion or improvement to ensure consistency across our team and processes.

We will continue to improve our case review process during 2021-22 as we scope plans to automate the quality assurance process.

"I could not fault the process or the case officer in any way, shape or form. Totally an efficient process with a fast and positive result.

After a number of phone calls and emails to my provider I was getting nowhere. At my request, EWOQ stepped in and it was a great result."

See the official copy of the 2020-21 annual report, as tabled in the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, on the Queensland Parliament's tabled papers website.