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Complaints about power and water companies have dropped. That is expected to change

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“Whilst this [complaints reduction] is positive, we expect that when stimulus support stops, accumulated debt will see complaints increase,” the annual report said.

Energy & Water Ombudsman Janine Young said the number of complaints has already begun to pick up again this financial year as cash-strapped consumers start to struggle to make payments.

“I hope I’m wrong…but I think my office will be busy next year,” Ms Young told the Herald. “It’s when [stimulus funding] falls off the cliff.”

Fewer complaints to the Ombudsman for power prices may not be telling the full story.

Fewer complaints to the Ombudsman for power prices may not be telling the full story.Credit:Virginia Star

Billing, customer service, and credit topped the list of complaints. Electricity also dominated, drawing about 80 per cent of all complaints with gas at 16 per cent and water just 4 per cent.

Ms Young said water continues to be a relatively modest fraction of households’ bills. By contrast, power bills had easily outpaced increases in overall consumer prices, pensions and wages over the past decade, stretching budgets.

One emerging “systemic issue” is the rise in complaints related to the installation of solar panels and batteries, particularly with households yet to have electricity meters upgraded to digital ones.

“The [analogue] meters are often not designed to capture information about electricity generated and exported to the grid,” the annual report said. “This issue is caused either by solar installers who do not understand the metering requirements for their product, or companies rushing to complete the work before a compliant digital meter is installed.”

As a result, some customers were not getting full credit for their exports to the grid or they may receive a defect notice from the power distributor for a non-compliant meter installation.

Such complaints made up the majority of 427 referrals made by the Ombudsman last year to the NSW Fair Trading office.

To make the most of their solar panels and batteries, it is important consumers "do a lot of research", Janine Young, the NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman, says.

To make the most of their solar panels and batteries, it is important consumers “do a lot of research”, Janine Young, the NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman, says.Credit:Nick Moir

A related issue is that actual benefits of solar and battery for some customers failed to live up to their expectations.

“If a solar or battery system does not deliver the expected benefits, and the systems have been purchased with finance, affordability can become a critical issue for consumers,” the report said.

Ms Young said the issue sometimes involved the “selling party” not telling customers which electricity plan would be most appropriate. The matter shows that it remains important for households “to do a lot of research” when installing solar systems, she said.

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