Resolving a problem with your utility provider with the Ombudsman 

Updated 14 July 2020

Everyone uses gas, water or electricity, and these utilities are necessary for everyday life. When you fall behind on paying your utilities bills, these services may be shut off. If you are falling behind on your paying your utilities bills because of financial problems, you might contact your utilities provider to see if they can help you. However, if you are unhappy with the solution they offer you, you can ask an Ombudsman for help.  

This resource is for Victorians who have already tried to speak to their utilities provider but have not resolved their issue and want to ask an Ombudsman to help resolve the problem. It includes the following information:  

  • What the Ombudsman does 
  • Issues you can take to an Ombudsman 
  • What the complaints process with the Ombudsman involves 
  • What to do if the Ombudsman can’t help you solve the problem 

Even if you are not based in Victoria, you might still find the information on this page useful However, to look for more information relevant to the state or territory you’re in, have a look at the websites we’ve listed at the end of this resource by clicking here.  

What does the Ombudsman do?

An Ombudsman is an independent and impartial authority which investigates and resolves complaints between parties. An Ombudsman is not a court, but it can make decisions about how best to resolve a problem within its jurisdiction. This decision can become binding if it is accepted by the consumer.  

In Victoria, the Ombudsman for utilities providers is the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria (EWOV). EWOV handles most Victorian complaints about energy and water issues.  

Before proceeding with this resource, please be aware that EWOV has published extensive in-depth and relevant information on their website.

The purpose of this resource is to provide a quick explanation of who an Ombudsman is, what they do, and how you could engage with them.

If you feel comfortable navigating EWOV’s website by yourself, you should head there directly. EWOV’s website is available by clicking here.

What issues can I complain to EWOV about?

This includes if:  

  • You have questions about billing and payment arrangements 
  • You are experiencing financial hardship and you can’t pay your bills 
  • Your utilities provider has commenced debt collection against you 
  • Your utilities provider has placed your name on credit default listings 
  • Your utilities provider has disconnected or restricted your energy and/or water services  

 For a full list of complaints that EWOV can or cannot take, please click here 

Financial hardship provisions in response to COVID-19 

The Australian Government and regulators have set out minimum standards expected of utilities providers to negotiate with people in financial hardship during COVID-19. 

 Under these principles, your provider should have helped you navigate financial hardship related to COVID-19 by: 

  • Offering you a payment plan or hardship arrangement if you say that you are in financial stress 
  • Being flexible about changing your payment plan if your circumstances change 
  • Disconnecting your services without your agreement 
  • Not referring your debt to a debt collector  

How do I make a complaint to EWOV?

The first thing you should do before making a complaint to the Ombudsman is to try to resolve the problem directly with your utilities provider by filing a formal complaint with them. They may be able to solve the problem for you.  

However, if your issue is unresolved after giving the company a reasonable opportunity to solve it, you can make a complaint to EWOV 

Preparing to make a complaint 

Before making a complaint to EWOV, you should first prepare your matter. If you struggle with gathering the relevant information, EWOV may be able to guide you once you start your complaint. However, it can help speed up the process if you do your best to do your research and get organised before you make the complaint.  

You should make sure that you have gathered the following information:

Identify the issue you want to complain about

You should be prepared to tell EWOV what specific decision made by the utilities provider you are unhappy with – this could be situations where the utilities provider has:   

  • Failed to offer you a payment plan or hardship arrangement when you indicated that you are in financial stress because of COVID-19 
  • Refused to change your payment plan, even though your circumstances have changed because of COVID-19 
  • Disconnected your services without telling you 
  • Referred your utilities debt to a debt collector* 

* If you are being contacted by a debt collector in relation to your utilities debt, you may want to look at our resource on “Responding to debt collectors during COVID-19″, which is available by clicking here. 

Identify the ideal outcome for you

You should be prepared to tell EWOV what an ideal outcome to help you navigate the issue you identified might look like.  

If your issue relates to financial hardship, it might be helpful for you to assess your current financial position and calculate a payment plan you can realistically afford to pay your outstanding utilities bills. If you are not able to make any payments at all, you may wish to ask for a deferral instead. If you need assistance to assess how much you may be able to pay, you may like to contact a free financial counselling service. The National Debt Helpline can be contacted on 1800 007 007.  

Prepare and collect relevant supporting documents

You should collect and organise all relevant documents supporting your complaint before applying. This might include:  

  • Your utilities bills 
  • Evidence of financial hardship 
  • Any correspondence between you and your utilities provider in relation to the issue 

You are not required to provide all the documents you have to EWOV when you start your complaint. However, doing this will help you carry out the steps above and prepare your application. It will also make sure that you are able to quickly respond to AFCA’s requests for documents once the complaint is started. 

Making a complaint

Once you have carried out the steps above, you can make a complaint to EWOV by phone, by email or online. EWOV also offers contact options for those who have difficulty speaking or are deaf or hard of hearing, and interpreter services if required. All these options are listed on EWOV‘s website, which is available by clicking here. Making a complaint to EWOV is free. 

When you lodge a complaint via phone, email, or online form, you will be asked to provide the following information:  

  • Your contact details (name, phone, email, address) 
  • The name of your electricity, gas, or water company 
  • The address the electricity, gas or water is supplied to 
  • How you would like the issue to be resolved 
  • Details of your complaint 
  • What the provider company said when you contacted them about the problem 

What does EWOV do once they have received a complaint?

he complaint process at EWOV is designed to be easy and accessible. The following steps outline the process. 

EWOV will make an assisted call to your utilities provider

Once EWOV has received the information needed, they will make an assisted call to your provider. This means they will contact them on your behalf to try and solve the issues you are having. Once EWOV has made the assisted call, you should expect:  

  • Your utilities provider to contact you by phone or in writing within 3 business days, and 
  • Your utilities provider to try and resolve your complaint with 15 business days.  

EWOV will investigate the complaint

If your utilities provider does not contact you after EWOV makes an assisted call to themEWOV will investigate the complaint. At this stage, they may gather any relevant information required to help you and the provider solve the problem fairly and reasonably. This stage could take around a month, depending on how complex the issue is.

EWOV will make a decision

Once EWOV has finished its investigation, it will make a decision about what it thinks the best way to resolve the issue will be.  

Once EWOV makes a decision, you will have two options:  

  1. Accept the decision – if you take this option, the decision will be binding on the utilities provider. 
  2. Reject the decision – if you take this option, the EWOV process will be over and the decision will not be binding on the utilities provider. You will need to find another way to resolve the issue. 

Extra Resources

Who do I go to if I am not in Victoria?

Most state Ombudsman follow a similar framework. Below are a list of energy Ombudsman for other states and territories:  

  • New South Wales – Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW. Their website is available by clicking here.
  • Queensland – Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland. Their website is available by clicking here.  
  • Western Australia – Energy and Water Ombudsman WA. Their website is available by clicking here.  
  • South Australia – Energy and Water Ombudsman SA. Their website is available by clicking here.  
  • Northern Territory – Ombudsman NT. Their website is available by clicking here. 
  • Tasmania – Energy Ombudsman Tasmania. Their website is available by clicking here.  
  • Australian Capital Territory – ACT Ombudsman. Their website is available by clicking here.  

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