Victoria's Energy and Water Ombudsman says customers should be sure of what they are entitled to when it comes to their essential services bills after the introduction of the Payment Difficulty Framework.
The Essential Services Commission introduced the framework on January 1 this year. It includes new protections for customers who need help paying their electricity and gas bills.
In the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria's annual report, ombudsman Cynthia Gebert said the framework relies on energy retailers considering the "totality of a customer's circumstances and focuses their obligations on outcomes, rather than specific processes".
"(The onus) has shifted to put in clear obligations on retailers and clear entitlements for consumers on what to expect if you struggle to pay a bill," Ms Gebert said.
"From our perspective, it makes it easier to check in and see if a customer has got what they're entitled to."
The major positive to come from the report was the overall decrease of complaints made to the EWOV.
In 2018-2019, EWOV received 31,180 cases - a 10 per cent decrease from the previous 12 months - with regulatory changes considered a reason for the drop.
Greater Bendigo saw an overall 20 per cent drop with 497 cases taken to the EWOV in 2018-19.
"It's great to see complaints have come down," Ms Gebert said. "But the caveat is that it is important for customers who need our assistance to know there is still a free independent service (available). The great unknown for us is the number of customers who still need us. We recognise people still struggle with (affording) essential services."
Decreases in Bendigo were also recorded in high bill cases (16 per cent drop), disconnection cases (53 per cent drop), collection cases (19 per cent drop) and new connection cases (65 drop)."
"One of our overarching aims is to put early assistance in to stop people accumulating debt and (providing) early advice on consumption and making sure customers are on the right (services) tariff," Ms Gebert said.
People should become more aware of what they are entitled to ask for.Cynthia Gebert, EWOV ombudsman
"People should become more aware of what they are entitled to ask for. (The reduction of complaints) does reflect what we would hope to see but we obviously want to make sure customers who may need to complain feel (they can be heard)."
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