The annual Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman report has been released, highlighting a number of issues that most concern energy and water customers in the state.

Foremost, Victorian energy and water customers were increasingly worried about billing and affordability issues.

The 2013 Annual Report from the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV) reveals 2012-13 as another year of substantial growth in energy and water customer complaints.

• Victorian energy and water customers lodged 77,149 cases with EWOV in 2012-13, 21% more than in 2011-12.

• 74,566 of the 77,149 cases* were complaints, 22% more than in 2011-12 and 106% more than five years ago.

The report highlights three main drivers of the latest increase in EWOV complaints—growing customer awareness of energy and water issues, ongoing systemic problems with company billing systems, and a range of billing-related solar issues that emerged as more customers took up solar power.

“Clearly, customers are becoming more and more familiar with the billing, cost and consequences of the energy and water they use. During 2012-13, we saw this reflected in their concerns about rising costs, affordability, payment difficulties and energy disconnection or water restriction,” said Cynthia Gebert, the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria).

Billing accounted for 53% of all of the issues customers raised with EWOV in 2012-13. Notably, 26% more people raised billing as their main issue than in 2011-12. The top three billing issues were high bills, billing errors and billing delays.

Credit followed at 16% of all complaint issues, with 19% more customers raising credit as their main issue than in 2011-12. The report explains that EWOV’s credit issues category is about the capacity of customers to pay their bills and stay on supply. The top credit issue was energy supply disconnection (threatened or actual).

“We believe there’s a strong correlation between the 19% increase in our credit-related cases and the rising cost of energy and water in Victoria,” said Ms Gebert.

“Credit issues are often closely linked with billing issues and customer hardship commonly presents itself to EWOV through a complaint about an unaffordable bill.”

The report highlights ongoing systemic problems with company billing systems over the past year as another driver of EWOV complaints.

“When the companies experiencing these problems weren’t able to successfully explain to their customers the reasons for high bills, errors and delays, these customers contacted EWOV for help,” explained Ms Gebert.

The third driver of complaints to EWOV in 2012-13 highlighted by the Ombudsman in the report was a range of billing-related solar issues. Many of these complaints related to the non- application or loss of one of the Feed-in Tariffs available to Victorian customers.

EWOV’s 2013 Annual Report is available in full on the EWOV website: www.ewov.com.au, under Publications.

Michelle is a freelance journalist and editor who, as well as covering all the latest and breaking industry news, is a gun proofreader and editor who never misses a trick.

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