Media Releases | 16th Oct, 2014

Rising energy retailer complaints require action

16 October 2014

The rising rate of utilities disconnections and complaints revealed by the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria must prompt government action to address the underlying causes of energy hardship, warns the One Million Homes Alliance.

The massive increase in energy customers seeking EWOV’s help to deal with disconnection, payment difficulties, or debt collection shows that energy costs are out of reach for more and more households – and that energy retailers are failing to meet their obligations in the supply of these essential services.

“Retailers claim that customers in hardship don’t let them know; but four out of every five people seeking EWOV’s help had first made repeated attempts to sort it out with their retailer,” said Emma King, VCOSS CEO.

“The growing number of complaints about disconnections highlights the unscrupulous practices and cavalier attitudes of energy retailers who are failing to adequately identify and support consumers who experience difficulty paying their bills,” said Emma King.

“Victoria’s retail energy industry is not meeting community expectations in the supply of these essential services and the time has come to strengthen regulatory oversight of the industry”, said Emma King.

“These alarming figures point to a wider problem, which is the poor quality of Victorian homes built before 2005. Poor quality housing costs householders hundreds of dollars a year in higher energy bills, and contributes to millions of tonnes of greenhouse emissions that could be easily avoided,” said Mark Wakeham, CEO Environment Victoria.

“Improving efficiency is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to save money and cut emissions. For a government with very few runs on the board in terms of climate policy, re-committing to its 2010 election promise to raise Victoria’s housing stock to an average of 5 star would be a good place to start,” Mark Wakeham said.

“Implementing a comprehensive retrofit program targeting Victoria’s low income households would cut Victoria’s annual greenhouse emissions by more than 2 million tonnes. That equates to about 2 percent of Victoria’s total emissions. It would save 32 billion litres of water for our rivers every year. With Victoria facing a jobs crisis, retrofitting Victoria’s homes would also create up to 7,000 jobs in trades and manufacturing,” Mark Wakeham said.

“And importantly, it would address the underlying cause of the rising rates of problems with payment and disconnections complaints – the unnecessarily high running costs of inefficient housing,” Mark Wakeham said.

Geoff Lodge, CEO of Goulburn Valley Community Energy which runs a program to conduct 1000 home energy assessments across the Shepparton region, says that their experience highlights how poor quality housing reinforces and exacerbates disadvantage.

“We see examples every day of clients who are already struggling to pay their bills, living in housing that is costing them a fortune to keep comfortable – just because they lack basic efficiency measures like insulation,” Geoff Lodge said.

“I would estimate that 90 per cent of the houses we visit have substandard insulation – something that is relatively cheap to fix and can have a profound impact.”

“As well as conducting a comprehensive assessment and education visit with the householder, we have a very small budget per house to do minor repairs and improvements. From our experience, even this very small investment can make a significant difference to householders’ comfort, health and cost of living,” Geoff Lodge said.

“The house I rent is pretty old and I haven’t got the cash to do much myself, so it was great having someone come in who could spot and fix the worst of the problems. They didn’t have much to spend but what they did was good, and I know what needs doing next,” said Robbie Keck, a GVCE client.

“I have received two electricity bills since having my home energy assessment and I’m ecstatic with the results. Both bills have been reduced by almost 30 per cent compared to the same time last year,” said GVCE client, Deb Sims.

In the lead-up to the 2010 Victorian State election, the Coalition government committed to raising Victoria’s pre-2005 housing stock to an average of 5 star. But since then no progress towards this goal has been made.
“If the government was interested in addressing the serious problems highlighted in today’s Energy and Water report, it would commit to implementing a program to assist low-income households, both homeowners and renters, to upgrade their homes,” Mark Wakeham said.

“All Victorians deserve to enjoy the benefits of efficiency – not just those who can afford the up-front costs,” Emma King said.

Learn more about the One Million Homes Alliance