There is no Commonwealth Energy or Water Ombudsman. Energy is always a State issue. The Tasmanian Energy Ombudsman can receive, investigate and resolve complaints about energy entities. The complaints may be about any service the electricity or natural gas company provides to consumers including:

  • Disputed accounts and high bills;
  • Debts and arrears;
  • Disconnection or restriction of supply;
  • Actions of a supplier that affect your property;
  • Reliability and quality of supply (including claims for compensation);
  • Connection or transfer issues; and
  • Poor customer service.

To make awards and register agreements between parties

The Energy Ombudsman has a determinative power to make monetary or other awards against an electricity entity. Under the Energy Ombudsman Act 1998 (Tas) provides for a determination with an award of up to $20,000 and, with the approval of the entity concerned (such as Aurora), an award of up to $50,000 may be made (s23(2)). The Energy Ombudsman may also order an entity to waive charges, provide services or to take or refrain from taking an action which will ensure a fair outcome in all circumstances (s24).

To identify and review systemic issues arising out of complaints

A significant proportion of the role of the Energy Ombudsman is to identify issues that appear to be occurring repeatedly. The resolution of these problems may simply involve re-emphasis of an existing policy or procedure, or it may involve considerable behavioural or policy change. The ultimate aim is to ensure customers are dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner and that their rights and responsibilities are communicated and well understood.

To assist energy entities to develop procedures to resolve complaints

In addition to complaints resolution, the Act prescribes a pro-active function. This includes the identification and review of issues arising out of complaints. For example, there may be a significant number of complaints claiming erroneous or conflicting advice given to customers. Investigations may find internal communication problems within an entity’s operations. The Energy Ombudsman must also be pro-active in assisting entities to develop procedures to resolve complaints.

The Energy Ombudsman is an industry ombudsman and does not act as an advocate for the complainant or the energy entity and, unlike a lawyer, has no client.

Dismissing Complaints

Under section 10 of the Energy Ombudsman Act 1998, the Energy Ombudsman must dismiss a complaint if:

  • the complaint lacks substance; or
  • the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or was not made in good faith; or
  • the complainant became aware of the circumstances that gave rise to the complaint more than two years before the complaint was made; or
  • the complainant has been given reasonable explanations and information and there would be no benefit in further entertaining the complaint; or
  • the complaint has been resolved; or
  • court proceedings which relate to the subject matter of the complaint have been commenced; or
  • all of the issues arising out of the subject matter of the complaint have been adjudicated upon or otherwise dealt with by the Regulator or a court, a tribunal, a board or another person under a law of Tasmania, the Commonwealth, a Territory of the Commonwealth or another State.

Who can make a complaint?

Any member of the public can approach the Energy Ombudsman’s office to lodge a complaint against any of the energy companies in Tasmania (s6). This can be done in various ways: telephone, a visit in person to the Energy Ombudsman’s office, writing and detailing the relevant issues of complaint, fax or e-mail. The energy entities in Tasmania are Government-owned commercial organisations:

  • Aurora Energy Pty Ltd is solely responsible for the retail and supply of energy to industrial, commercial and residential customers: this area constitutes 99% of complaints received by the Energy Ombudsman;
  • Transend Networks Pty Ltd is responsible for the distribution of power from dams and generators and owns the energy infrastructure such as pylons and sub-stations;
  • The Hydro Electric Corporation is responsible for power generation and owns the dams and generators.

Complaints to the Energy Ombudsman received by telephone can be handled in an informal and quick manner. Interviews are available by appointment to discuss complaints with any of the officers if desired. However, internet complaints are increasingly popular as the use of the internet and email grows.

Types of Complaints

A complaint can be broadly defined as a grievance, or an expression of dissatisfaction with an energy entity’s policies, procedures, charges, employees, agents, quality of service or products sold or provided.

The Energy Ombudsman can only investigate and resolve complaints from people who have tried and failed to resolve problems with energy entities and as a result feel powerless in attaining a satisfactory outcome.

An example of a simple dispute resolution would be where a customer has been refused re-connection until they pay an amount in arrears. After discussions with Aurora, the customer may be offered an easier payment arrangement.

An example of a complex dispute where there is little chance of resolution through negotiated outcome would be a surge liability claim where the energy entity denies all liability. Such a complaint may end with a formal determination.

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