Gas-related disconnections and complaints are rising, according to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW.More NSW households are struggling with growing gas costs, with the number of residential gas disconnections and those on payment plans jumping in the past financial year.
The latest figures from the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW show residential gas disconnection increased by 54 per cent to 7555 in 2014-15.
The rise in disconnections comes in the wake of a decision by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in 2014 to raise regulated gas prices by between 14.4 per cent and 19.4 per cent over two years. It said one of the main drivers was the increased exposure to the international gas market.
The figures also show the number of gas customers on payment plans increased by 63 per cent to 17,885. By contrast, the number of electricity customers on payments plans grew by 23 per cent.
A spokesman for Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts, said the minister was concerned about the increase in gas disconnections.
But he said gas prices had stabilised and decreased the government expected another drop once deregulation of the market is introduced mid next year.
“In the 2015-16 Budget, the NSW Government announced a new $90 Gas Rebate will also be available to an estimated 290,000 customers, who meet the same eligibility criteria as the Low Income Household Rebate. This means eligible low income households could receive a combined $325 rebate to assist with the cost of energy bills,” the spokesman said.
Acting Opposition leader Linda Burney said NSW families were finding it difficult to keep up with the rising cost of gas and the Baird Government was not doing enough to alleviate the pressures.
“The Baird Government has no sympathy for living costs. They are already in court challenging the independent regulator’s ruling on energy trying to push the cost of power up for customers,” she said.
NSW Premier Mike Baird opposes a pricing decision by the n Energy Regulator that would slash household power bills by hundreds of dollars.
Three NSW electricity networks – Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy – have taken legal action to overturn price cuts of about 20 per cent imposed on them by the regulator.
At the same time, consumer group Public Interest Advocacy Centre has lodged its own appeal to the n Competition Tribunal, fighting for even deeper cuts and greater savings for households.
The Ombudsman’s annual report also shows complaints have overall decreased by 19 per cent, although there were 8,512 affordability related complaints, a decline of only 12 per cent from last year, which indicates steadier pricing has not reversed the impact of previous price increases for consumers on fixed or low incomes.
Electricity and water complaints were down 24 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, while gas complaints rose by 5 per cent.
“The overall decrease in complaints followed eight years of successive increases and it was driven by improvements in most providers’ internal dispute resolution processes,” said Ombudsman Janine Young.
“These improvements are very welcome, however, affordability remains a challenge for many consumers. A growing number of customers are seeking EWON’s assistance with credit listing and debt collection problems, two complex issues which have increased markedly over recent years,” she said.
“Customer service complaints went against the downward trend, rising 7 per cent in 2014-2015 to account for 11,767 of all cases finalised. Incorrect advice and failure to respond to customers or provide them with requested information were all reported more frequently, resulting in customer frustration and stress that could have been avoided.”