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Spike in energy and water disconnections shows need for hardship reform

A worrying 36 per cent increase in energy and water disconnections shows the need for reform of retailers’ response to people experiencing energy and water hardship, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) today released quarterly data showing nearly 600 people complained to the Ombudsman about their electricity, gas or water being disconnected or restricted, reversing a previous decline in numbers.

“Everyone needs to be able access essential services such as electricity, water and gas for their health, wellbeing and participation in society – but too many people facing hardship are still being disconnected from these essential services,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“We need to improve the way that energy retailers work with their customers to better manage their energy and water use without losing access to their supply.”

“The fact that disconnections appear to be rising again increases the urgency for a new approach to hardship that puts keeping people connected to their energy and water supply at the forefront.”

The State Government has tasked the Essential Services Commission with reviewing the hardship practices of energy retailers. The Commission’s draft report proposes changes to the way retailers work with customers to manage energy hardship and debt.

“Whilst the Commission’s proposals should provide greater support for people experiencing financial hardship, more can be done to strengthen the protections against disconnections. Care must be taken to design and implement the hardship framework so retailers provide sufficient help, and ensure customers have the flexibility to get extra assistance when they need, without being exposed to the risk of disconnection.”

“Energy and water retailers should more consistently offer their customers responsive payment flexibility when they need it.  They should also help their customers to better manage their energy and water use without losing amenity, alongside new energy and water efficiency programs to help low-income households keep their costs down.”

“Disconnection must be a measure of absolute last resort in our retail energy and water system.”

“The onus must be placed on retailers to work with their customers to reduce the risk of being cut off.”