The EWON (Energy & Water Ombudsman of NSW) Annual Report 2003-2004 shows complaints from utility customers continue to rise. In the 2003-2004 financial year EWON handled 8,568 cases involving electricity, gas and water customers– an increase of 37% from the previous year.
The majority of complaints related to electricity (73%) and at least a quarter of these related to disconnection of electricity supply. As with previous years, billing and credit issues were the main area of customer complaints across all utilities.
At least 30% of cases involved people on income support, in particular pensions or benefits, highlighting that affordability of essential services is a significant issue for many low income customers.
The positive news is that energy companies have begun to develop assistance programs for their customers in difficult financial circumstances. These programs remove customers from the debt recovery cycle, and instead, offer carefully negotiated and realistic payment arrangements that customers can manage.
While the number of disconnections per year has fluctuated since 1998 when EWON was established, it still remains high. For many customers who are already facing financial and personal hardships, disconnection can often be the "last straw".
There are increasing pressures on utilities and customers, particularly in relation to issues of supply, sustainability and pricing. Ensuring that essential services stay within reach of all customers is a challenge for the whole community.
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