The NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOM) says that there has been a 43 per cent increase in complaints relating to electricity bills over the last 12 months. Latest figures show that there was a record number of 25,162 complaints to the EWOM about rising electricity bills and unfair treatment. The number of complaints was well above the 25 per cent predicted increase.

Key issues included billing disputes, affordability of bills, debt collection, solar feed in tariffs and customer service. The EWOM said that there was an underlying issue that customers would struggle to meet payment of future bills, with a rapidly increasing number of credit defaults for amounts of less than $300. This information comes to light at the same time as the world’s peak energy body warning that global prices for electricity is expected to rise by up to 15% over the next decade.

Despite many of the issues being out of control for electricity retailers such as rising network costs, there was a strong issue that the retailers had failed to help customers in financial distress. The NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman Clare Petre commented that there “was whole range of complaints but they mostly related around energy affordability in many cases.”

In Victoria, there were similar increases in complaints, with energy and water consumer complaints rising 23 per cent in the year. Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert said affordability was also becoming an ”alarming” problem, with the volume of credit-related complaints increasing 20 per cent. Complaints about billing was up 30 per cent from last year, however it was solar tariffs with the biggest incvrease in complaints, rising 57 per cent from the previous year. Overall in Victoria electricity complaints were up 197 per cent compared with five years ago.

Energy retailers such as Orgin Energy, AGL Energy and ERM Power have stated that price increases were the result of greater expenditure on infrastructure which had been neglected by the government for decades and had not adapted to be able to deal with peak electricity consumption. Others blame the carbon tax, with NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher calling on the PM to repeal the carbon tax.

Read the full EWOM 2011-2012 report and the 2012 EWOV report for further information.