The shocking extent of bill defaulting is revealed in a new report from Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman.
Power bills have already surged about 50 per cent ahead of inflation in the past four years, mainly due to higher network costs passed on by monopoly distributors.
The state’s households and small businesses face another price jolt from January.
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Now the Ombudsman’s report reveals that to add to the pain, retailers are taking a harsher stance against consumers who fall behind on accounts.
The Ombudsman’s office says it has been swamped with record utilities complaints such as high bills, disconnections and botched charges and meter readings.
The Ombudsman also warned of “credit repair” companies charging fees to help struggling people when free help was available elsewhere.
“Electricity, gas and water prices are up. People are facing other cost-of-living pressures,” Ombudsman Fiona McLeod notes in an annual report released today.
“Many of the customers who contacted us were concerned about paying their bills and making ends meet.
“It was also evident that energy retailers were taking a harder line on account arrears and pursuit of energy debt.”
Her office handled 49,580 complaints last financial year, up 29 per cent on a year earlier and 250 per cent more than five years ago.
A MAN sent a $20,000 gas bill because of a bungled meter reading.
SOME customers getting higher, but accurate, bills when smart meters were put in because old meters were “running slowly”.
A WOMAN charged the wrong electricity tariff for years.
ROGUE door-to-door sellers sacked or cautioned for telling customers that retailers would cover smart meter costs.
More than 4100 customers raised debt collection as a main or associated credit issue, while more than 5800 cited payment difficulties.
Cases about disconnection increased 74 per cent (to 2636) for electricity and 34 per cent (to 1399) for gas.
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