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Utilities Disputes releases 2019-2020 Annual Report

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

7,815 people contacted Utilities Disputes last year with concerns or complaints about electricity, gas, water, or broadband installation on shared property. The Utilities Disputes Annual Report, released yesterday, highlights a 17% increase in enquiries, and a 10% decrease in complaints. Electricity and gas issues accounted for 6,968 of the contacts, followed by 460 about broadband installation on shared property, and 269 about water.

"The increase in enquiries is a positive sign that more people know they can access our free and independent service," says Utilities Disputes Commissioner Mary Ollivier. "The decrease in complaint investigations signals a greater effort by providers, and our early resolution team, to proactively resolve consumer issues before they escalate."

With electricity and gas making up 84% of last year’s complaints, bills were the most common complaint issue, followed by customer service, meters, disconnections, and supply. "Sudden high bills, back bills, and incorrect bills can cause a lot of stress," says Ms Ollivier. "While we can’t make decisions about the price of electricity or gas, we can bring the parties together and broadly investigate the bill, the plan, and the customer service, which makes a big difference."

Ms Ollivier says many complaints could be avoided with better communication and information. For example, one complainant signed up (with a door salesperson) to switch electricity companies, but when he later phoned to ask why he hadn’t received a bill, he was told he wasn’t a customer. Nine months later, after multiple mix ups, he received a backdated bill from the new company for $1,219. After Utilities Disputes investigated, the company acknowledged its errors and reduced the bill to $509. "Customers want clear and accurate information. They want their questions answered, their complaints acknowledged, and some appreciate talking to a readily available person, which is where we can come in."

The Annual Report includes a list of the number of complaints accepted for consideration by each company. "Complaint numbers do not necessarily reflect negatively on a company," says Ms Ollivier. "They can, in fact, reflect proactive customer service - as customers should be informed about Utilities Disputes, and unresolved complaints referred on to us."

Utilities Disputes Board Chair, Hon Heather Roy, says free access to an independent dispute resolution service is vital in the current climate. "With increased competition and services in the energy market, consumers must have access to the assistance they need to voice their concerns and make informed choices," says Mrs Roy. "Covid-19 continues to present extraordinary challenges. It’s even more important for consumers to stay connected, and to ask for extra help if they need it."

Since the Annual Reporting year (April 1 - March 31), Utilities Disputes has received a spike in enquiries during and post lockdown. "On most occasions, our team has helped resolve issues quickly, and connect customers with the right support," says Ms Ollivier. "This was significantly helped by providers increasing customer support as a response to Covid-19 with a range of options to reduce confusion and hardship. We appreciate working with industry to improve customer outcomes."

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