STRUGGLING south-west energy users are lodging complaints over their power bills in huge numbers.
So far 144 complaints have been listed with the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria (EWOV) from residents in the Warrnambool City and Moyne Shire council areas.
Last week, The Standard revealed that south-west welfare agencies had received a spike in the number of people seeking help, including requests for blankets and jackets because they were unable or unwilling to heat their homes.
Speaking yesterday, Energy and Water Ombudsman's Cynthia Gebert said a longer, colder winter and increased media coverage on power prices had seen a surge in complaints with the body.
"The most striking thing in that data has been the high bill complaints," Ms Gebert said.
A bout 646 complaints were made from residents across Victoria last month.
Ms Gebert described September as a "big driver" for electricity complaints when residents received their quarterly power bills, which covered the winter months.
The Energy and Water Ombudsman is an impartial body not connected to any government and is funded by the industry to resolve complaints between individuals and their energy providers.
"The challenge for us is to work with customers to see what the high bills are about we focus on trying to get the complaints resolved as soon as possible," Ms Gebert said.
Recent media coverage on the cost of living and the federal government carbon tax was leading people to question the price tag on their power use, Ms Gebert explained. "People are scrutinising their bills in ways they possibly haven't," she said.
Older homes, inefficient appliances and a longer winter were all potential culprits, she said.
Explaining that it was "outside the jurisdiction" to issue statements on the price of electricity, Ms Gebert conceded a report by the essential services commission had found the cost of energy had increased.
The report released last month found that electricity prices in Victoria jumped on average by 12 per cent over 2011-2012.
It further found that retail gas prices increased by an average of six per cent over the same time frame.
Ms Gebert said many of those contacting the ombudsman did so because they were unable to pay their way out of electricity bills. She said the representatives from the body had been in Warrnambool this week speaking to welfare agencies, including the Salvation Army.