New report shows the benefits of family violence protections for customers accessing essential services; but more needs to be done
20 July 2023
Victorian customers are benefiting from family violence protections available from their water businesses, according to a new report by the state economic regulator.
The Essential Services Commission scrutinised how the family violence provisions in the Water Industry Standards (introduced in 2018) are being implemented by water businesses, and what this means for customers who are affected by family violence.
The review was guided by an expert group of family violence survivor advocates. The commission also heard directly from people with lived experience of family violence, financial counsellors, water businesses and the community sector.
The report identifies that while the family violence provisions are working well for most customers, there are opportunities for both the commission and the water sector to do more. The report outlines four areas for improvement and eight actions the commission will take to build on the existing strengths of the water sector response.
Chairperson Kate Symons says the commission is committed to working with its regulated sectors to improve outcomes for Victorian customers affected by family violence.
“This report demonstrates the positive changes that regulated sectors like the water industry can make to strengthen its support and protection of customers affected by family violence. It also highlights areas for future action,” Commissioner Symons said.
“We have seen water businesses try new approaches in implementing or improving family violence responses. We’ve also seen businesses recognise opportunities to promote customer safety and build the capacity of their staff. We want to make sure that customers affected by family violence are assured of consistency in the outcomes they can expect from their water business.”
Commissioner Symons urged Victorians to reach out to their utility providers if they need assistance due to family violence.
“If you or a family member are affected by family violence, contact your water or energy provider and ask how they can help you. Utility providers in Victoria are required to protect customer information, ensure access to payment assistance, and provide customers with connections to specialist family violence services.”
“This review is one of actions we committed to as part of our three-year Getting to Fair strategy to support better practices in delivering essential services to consumers experiencing vulnerability. We are at the beginning of this journey and there’s lots more to be done to make sure the services we regulate are more responsive, inclusive and accessible and deliver improved outcomes for all customers, including those who may be affected by family violence,” she said.
The findings report from the Water Industry Standards Family Violence Review is available online along with two consultant research reports commissioned as part of the review. The research reports contain insights from people with lived experience of family violence who have interacted directly with their water business over the past five years, and financial counsellors who have supported clients affected by family violence.
The report follows the commission’s announcement in June 2023 that it has entered into an enforceable undertaking with a Victorian water business over alleged breaches of its family violence obligations. The commission takes any noncompliance with consumer family violence protections very seriously.
Commissioner Symons thanked those stakeholders who contributed to the review.
“This was an important review for the commission and the broader community. We value your input, experience and perspectives to help inform our work and are grateful for your contribution. We hope this review will lead to continual improvements in how regulated sectors support and protect consumers experiencing family violence.”
If you have a complaint about your water business:
contact your water business directly — if the issue can’t be resolved at the first point of contact ask for it to be escalated to a more senior manager.