Rising Tide of Complaints in NSW
The NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman has released its FY 2023 annual report. It's no surprise that energy-related complaints, and particularly billing complaints, are well up on the previous year.
In the freshly unveiled Annual Report for 2022/2023 from the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON), a rising wave of consumer dissatisfaction has emerged, showcasing the turbulent waters customers and energy providers find themselves in. The report marked a notable surge of complaints, totalling 17,852 in 2022/2023 - a 22% increase from 2020/2021, but still lower than complaints recorded in FY 2019 and FY 2020.
This surge is a reflection of the stormy economic weather brewing. With the cost of living soaring alongside significant leaps in energy prices, it's no wonder that EWON is bracing for a further swell of complaints, anticipated to skyrocket by 49% in this financial year.
Billing complaints have been the main thing keeping the phones buzzing at EWON. With a total of 11,972 billing grievances lodged, marking a 27% climb from last year, it's clear that many residents in NSW are feeling the pinch. The breakdown tells a more detailed story - 5,359 disputed high bills, a hefty 35% increase, and a whopping 406 complaints about price hikes, which is nearly quadruple the number from last year.
The energy & water landscape isn’t just about numbers on a page; it’s about the lived experiences of consumers. As Janine Young, the Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW, points out, the financial squeeze is bringing a growing band of customers into uncharted territory:
"The increase in credit complaints paints a concerning picture when we look at the real-life circumstances behind the complaint. Customers are accruing more debt and run the risk of being disconnected or credit listed if they can’t keep on top of their bills"
Many energy consumers are now grappling with affordability challenges for the first time. There's been a 24% uptick in customers reaching out for affordability programs and a 12% rise in those opting for payment plans.
Following closely behind billing woes are credit-related complaints, which have also seen an uptick. These include the harsh realities of disconnection, payment struggles, and the ominous cloud of debt collection. The figures are telling: 1,712 credit complaints, an 11% climb from the previous year. Within this, a 25% surge in complaints about disconnection or restriction and an 11% increase in debt collection grievances were recorded.
The report also sheds light on the type of energy stirring the most complaints - electricity, which sparked 77% of total complaints, followed by gas at 18%. Meanwhile, water-related complaints barely made a splash, constituting just 4% of all grievances.