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Ombudsman reveals leap in complaints from NSW consumers as power prices surge and service levels drop

Paul Lister - Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rising power prices and poor service from the privatised electricity sector has resulted in a surge of customer complaints, according to new data from the Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW.

According to the EWON quarterly activity report, in the last three months of 2017 NSW electricity users made a total of 5,283 complaints regarding electricity services, a jump of more than 25 per cent from the 4,100 that were received during the same quarter the year before.

Driving this rise was a 42.7 per cent leap in complaints about high power bills, while total complaints against electricity retailers climbed 28.9 per cent and failings by electricity distributors were up 10.5 per cent.

The Electrical Trades Union said the data highlighted the ongoing failure of the Liberal National Government’s privatisation policies.

“The Liberal and National Parties went to an election promising that consumers would be better off if the State’s electricity sector was privatised,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“Instead, we’ve seen more than 2000 jobs — many in regional areas — slashed by the new private owners.

“The result of this loss of skilled workers has been a reduction in service standards, less resources for maintenance, and slower response times to major outages and emergencies.

“At the same time power prices have surged, delivering private owners massive profits while consumers are paying much more money for a poorer quality service.”

Mr McKinley said the union was unsurprised by the data, saying it aligned with the experiences in Victoria and South Australia following privatisation of electricity services in those states.

“The fact that complaints have leapt in NSW is no surprise to anyone who has experienced power privatisation in other parts of the country,” he said.

“For all the promises of better services and lower prices, private owners of power assets have shown they are much more interested in increasing profits by slashing jobs and reducing services, rather than maintaining the electricity network as an essential service.

“Unfortunately, we expect the situation will continue to get worse, with these private operators continuing to slash staff, cut costs, and increase prices — all with the blessing of the Australian Energy Regulator.

“The only way to solve the problem of skyrocketing bills and falling service levels is to return the electricity supply chain to public ownership, where reliability and service levels can be prioritised over profits.”