Benalla had one of the highest percentage of complaints against water and energy companies that were referred to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV) last year.
Figures released in the EWOV’s 2017 Annual Report show that Benalla was in the top three council areas for complaints as a percentage of population.
The main areas of complaint were disconnections, high bills, disputed debt collection and billing errors.
Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert said the biggest driver of complaints was people’s capacity to pay for what is an essential service.
‘‘People are being threatened with disconnection, and we see a lot of complaints regarding debt collection practices,’’ Ms Gebert said.
‘‘It’s difficult to say why Benalla has such a high level of complaints.
‘‘It strikes me as being similar to trends we’ve seen in other areas where people are having trouble paying bills as well as household expenses.’’
It is now a well-known fact that should a customer mention the word ‘‘ombudsman’’ to a service provider issues are dealt with quickly.
However, Ms Gebert said it was always important to try and solve an issue with providers before taking the complaint further.
‘‘The first thing is to let the company know if you are struggling to pay bills,’’ Ms Gebert said. ‘‘Energy and water companies are required to have a hardship program, but they can’t help if they don’t know people are struggling. We have actually seen a real improvement in how businesses are handling straight forward complaints.
‘‘Companies are getting better at dealing with straight forward issues, which is good as we should be the office of last resort.’’
If you are experiencing issues with your energy and water supplier the first step is to contact them and let them know.
If there is no satisfactory resolution the next step is to get in contact with the ombudsman, the EWOV can be reached on 1800500509.