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The Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV) complies with the National Benchmarks for Industry-Based Customer Dispute Resolution Schemes 1997. In doing so, EWOV has developed case handling policies and procedures to ensure that its service is effective and efficient. This includes ensuring that complaints are dealt with by the appropriate process.

In progressing cases, EWOV handles complaints independently and within the framework of what is fair and reasonable, what constitutes good industry practice and what lies within current laws. Appendix One elaborates further on EWOV’s independence and outlines EWOV’s fair and reasonable bubbles. Refer to EWOV's Investigated Complaint Progression Procedure for full details.


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Ready access for individual consumers

EWOV's Accessibility Policy outlines the measures EWOV has implemented to ensure that its services are accessible to customers, and the circumstances under which EWOV may limit access to its services for individuals.



Impartial complaint resolution not advocacy

Independence and impartiality form the foundation for everything that EWOV does. All of EWOV’s policies and procedures, from case handling to communications, are aimed at ensuring that EWOV’s independent and impartial position is maintained.

Independence and impartiality in practice - what does it mean?

In practice, independence means:

  • following the principles of ‘natural justice’ or procedural fairness
  • not pre-judging a customer (e.g. on the basis of the customer’s language skills, past case history or financial circumstances)
  • not pre-judging a Scheme Participant (e.g. on basis of its past performance)
  • avoiding personal conflicts of interest (e.g. not investigating a complaint involving family or friends; or if the staff member has a personal financial interest in either party to the complaint)
  • avoiding deliberate withholding of information provided to EWOV so that one party can obtain a better outcome.

EWOV’s independence and customers

  • Service Officers and Conciliators clearly explain to a customer that their role is an independent one and is not to act on the customer’s behalf or as the customer’s advocate.
  • Service Officers and Conciliators explain to the customer that their role is to assist in the resolution of a complaint in a fair and independent manner.
  • If asked, Service Officers or Conciliators will explain to a customer that EWOV is an industry-funded alternative dispute resolution service. The independence of EWOV is ensured by its governance and Board structure, comprising equal numbers of industry and consumer representatives and an independent chairperson.
  • Service Officers and Conciliators will not pre-judge a complaint based on the nature of the issue or the customer.

EWOV’s independence and Scheme Participants

  • Just as EWOV staff are not customer advocates, they are not industry advocates either.
  • EWOV ensures that it has constructive and positive working relationships with Scheme Participant contacts, particularly as EWOV staff and Scheme Participant contacts deal with each other on a daily basis.
  • Inbound Service Officers and Conciliators will work with Scheme Participant contacts in a professional and friendly manner, however they will remain detached and independent and will not build friendships with Scheme Participant contacts.
  • Inbound Service Officers and Conciliators will not make judgments about receiving a complaint based on the needs of a Scheme Participant, particularly in relation to case costs. The decision to receive a complaint is EWOV’s and is based on established case handling policies and procedures aimed at ensuring EWOV’s independence and impartiality are maintained and that its primary purpose is carried out.

Independence and pre-judgement of complaints

  • A fundamental part of being independent is ensuring that there is no pre-judgment of a complaint when it is lodged with EWOV, based on the nature of the issue, the customer’s background or the cost that will be charged to the Scheme Participant.
  • Inbound Service Officers and Conciliators are not able to make an assessment of the merits of a complaint prior to investigating those merits. EWOV will not deny access to its services based on a preconceived notion of the merits of a complaint as this would interfere with EWOV’s independence.

Maintaining EWOV’s independence and impartiality

  • If an Inbound Service Officer or Conciliator has any concerns about their independence in respect of a particular complaint, they will discuss those concerns with their manager.
  • There are times when objectivity and independence can be challenged, particularly if a complaint has been ongoing for some time. In these instances EWOV will assess whether the Inbound Service Officer or Conciliator can maintain their independence from both the customer and the Scheme Participant. If not, EWOV will re-allocate the complaint to another member of staff.

Maintaining EWOV’s independence and impartiality

  • EWOV handles complaints and makes decisions about complaints that are fair and seen to be fair by observing the principles of procedural fairness or natural justice.
  • EWOV investigates and assesses the merits of individual complaints in line with the Fair and Reasonable Framework.

Determinations by the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman bases determinations, or Binding Decisions, on what is fair and reasonable, having regard to good industry practice, relevant industry codes, the law and the individual circumstances of the complaint./

Procedural Fairness/Natural Justice

  • EWOV advises customers of their right to access the legal system or other redress mechanisms, at any stage, if they are dissatisfied with any of EWOV’s decisions or with the Ombudsman’s determination.
  • Both customers and Scheme Participants can put their case to EWOV, are told the arguments, and are provided sufficient information to know the case of the other party. Both customers and Scheme Participants are provided with the opportunity to rebut the arguments of, and information provided by, the other party.
  • Customers and Scheme Participants are provided with detailed reasons for any decision made by EWOV staff regarding a complaint or any determination made by the Ombudsman.
  • Customers are advised why a complaint is outside jurisdiction or is otherwise excluded from being investigated by EWOV.

Provision of information to the Ombudsman

  • EWOV can request, but cannot compel, customers to provide information relevant to a complaint. If customers do not provide information requested by EWOV, which is necessary to continue investigating a complaint, the complaint may be closed on the basis of customer non-participation. Also, under clause 5.1 of EWOV's Charter, EWOV can request Scheme Participants to provide all information which, in EWOV's view, is relevant to a complaint. If that information identifies a third party, we ask Scheme Participants to attempt to obtain consent (and provide this to EWOV) from the third party to release the information to EWOV. However, if consent cannot be obtained (or demonstrated) then we prefer to receive information that has had third-party details removed. EWOV needs to handle all information, including third-party and sensitive information, in line with our obligations under the Privacy Act 1988 and Australian Privacy Principles.

Highest professional standards

EWOV has high standards and actively seeks ways to improve. We focus on attracting and retaining the best people. We seek to build on our reputation as a leader in alternative dispute resolution.


Regular public reporting

EWOV publicly accounts for its operations by publishing regular public reports (Quarterly Res Online, Quarterly Solar and Smart Meter Report, Quarterly Connect, Quarterly Affordability Report, and an Annual Report) detailing the number of complaints received, how those complaints were handled by EWOV and any Binding Decisions that were made. EWOV also publishes information about the types of complaints received and any actual or potential systemic or trend issues that have been identified through EWOV’s work.

Public reports

EWOV has high standards and actively seeks ways to improve. We focus on attracting and retaining the best people. We seek to build on our reputation as a leader in alternative dispute resolution.

  • EWOV’s public reports are aimed at informing all stakeholders - from government to community agencies to the wider public - about the work EWOV does and the issues facing the industries. They also provide information to Scheme Participants about how to improve service delivery to reduce the number of complaints being made by customers.
  • Details of the reports published by EWOV can be found on our website by

High calibre people, supported by training and technology

EWOV ensures its effectiveness by having appropriate and comprehensive policies and procedures for the handling of complaints, and by ensuring that regular reviews of its performance are undertaken.

Scope of Ombudsman’s powers

The scope of the Ombudsman’s powers is such that all complaints lodged with EWOV will be resolved. The vast majority of complaints to EWOV are resolved through agreement (conciliation), however, if agreement cannot be reached, the Ombudsman has powers to decline to investigate a matter further, dismiss a complaint or make a Binding Decision.

Under paragraph 6.1 of EWOV’s Charter, the Ombudsman has the power to make a Binding Decision (binding on the Scheme Participant not the customer), up to a value of $20,000 (or $50,000 with the consent of both parties). Conciliated outcomes have no monetary limit. EWOV can investigate and seek to conciliate complaints relating to any disputed amount.

Systemic Issues

  • EWOV has a mandate to identify any actual or potential systemic or trend issues affecting the industries it covers and to report these issues to the relevant regulator.
  • EWOV works closely with Scheme Participants to identify systemic issues and provides advice about how systemic issues can be redressed to reduce customer complaints.
  • EWOV provides the Board with a de-identified Systemic Issues Report on a quarterly basis.
  • EWOV’s systemic issue investigations are also published in our regular reporting and on our website.

Scheme performance and complaints about EWOV

EWOV has an Internal Complaint Handling Policy, which outlines how EWOV handles complaints about the scheme from customers, Scheme Participants and the general public.

Provision of Excellent Customer Service

In being established as an industry-based dispute resolution scheme, EWOV must lead the industry in the provision of excellent customer service.

Policies and processes for ensuring excellent service

EWOV has developed extensive case handling policies and procedures to complement its mandate of providing excellent customer service.

A holistic approach to complaint resolution

EWOV takes a holistic approach to the resolution of customer complaints. EWOV will review the individual circumstances of each customer’s case when making an assessment of the merits of a complaint and will work proactively with customers and Scheme Participants to ensure that the underlying issue is resolved for the long term.

Minimum service standards

  • EWOV provides customers with access to well trained and well supported Inbound Service Officers and Conciliators. Customers will speak to a ‘human being’ when they contact EWOV on its Freecall number and will not have to navigate their way around a complex IVR system.
  • Customers do not have to repeat their story each time they contact EWOV, as staff record detailed notes of the complaint in Resolve (EWOV’s case management system).
  • Conciliators are required to contact Scheme Participants and customers, who have an open complaint, at least once every 14 days to provide or obtain an update on the progress of the complaint.

Active participation by customers

EWOV requires that customers actively participate in the resolution of their complaint. This empowers customers to be involved in the resolution process and also ensures that customers do not confuse EWOV’s role as that of an advocate.

Managing customer expectations

EWOV recognises that providing excellent customer service does not equate to the old notion of ‘the customer is always right’. Conciliators and Inbound Service Officers spend time discussing EWOV’s role, the criteria on which decisions are made, and the investigation and resolution process in order to manage customers’ expectations of what they will achieve by lodging a complaint with EWOV.

Conciliators and Inbound Service Officers explain to customers that lodging a complaint with EWOV is not about getting what they want, rather it is getting to an agreed outcome that is fair and reasonable to both the customer and the Scheme Participant. Customers can then make an informed choice as to whether they pursue the complaint via EWOV or take the matter to another forum.


Optimal resource use

EWOV aims to ensure that all of its policies and procedures ensure the efficient and effective management of complaints and ensures it has measures in place to monitor efficiency. EWOV also regularly reviews its performance against organisational Key Performance Indicators, through customer satisfaction surveys and stakeholder surveys.

When EWOV will deal with a complaint

Referrals

If a customer contacts EWOV about an issue that is not within EWOV’s jurisdiction to investigate, EWOV will arrange a referral to the body most appropriate to handle the issue.

Tracking of complaints to ensure speedy resolution

  • EWOV has established timeframes for the speedy resolution of complaints, which do not compromise the quality of the outcome of the complaint.
  • EWOV tracks the progress of complaints to ensure that timeframes are being met and complaints are not being unnecessarily delayed.

Monitoring of performance

  • EWOV sets objective targets against which it can assess its performance.
  • EWOV keeps systematic records of all complaints and enquiries, their progress and their outcome in its case management system - Resolve.
  • EWOV conducts regular reviews of its performance by undertaking regular:
    • customer satisfaction surveys
    • Scheme Participant satisfaction surveys
    • employee surveys and performance appraisals
    • KPI achievement reviews
    • quality assurance activities.

Community awareness building

We undertake a wide range of activities aimed at building community awareness of our services, including a quarterly community publication - Connect. We also equip customers and their representatives with information and resources to help resolve their own complaints directly with Scheme Participants. Supplementing these, Scheme Participants must tell their customers about EWOV as part of their internal dispute resolution process and need to include EWOV’s contact information on all energy disconnection and water restriction warnings.



Effective stakeholder links and working relationships

We work on maintaining positive and effective working relationships with our external stakeholders. We're actively involved on external committees and working groups. We also hold community presentations and event days, and participate in regular meetings with key stakeholders.