An independent community panel has worked with South East Water to provide their recommendations on how the budget from water bills should be spent.
South East Water is currently in a service and price planning phase, which means working with customers to determine what its projects, prices and charges will be from 2023 to 2028.
In 2021, over 7,000 customers participated in a series of workshops, focus groups and surveys giving feedback on what they value and what will be most important to them and their community over the next 5 years.
A deliberative community panel of 40 people further explored this feedback and were tasked to make recommendations about how South East Water determines its future prices and services.
Representing communities from across Melbourne’s south-east and ranging in gender and age (from 16 to over 75 years), the diverse community panel attended six full-day workshops to gain an informed and in-depth understanding of South East Water and the services it provides.
Community member Tom Zsolt found the panel worked well together to achieve a series of recommendations that were fit for purpose.
“We learned that the usage, supply and affordability of water is going to become paramount in the future,” Tom said.
“There was a real attitude from the panel that we all wanted to achieve something, to represent the community in having a real say on how money from our water bills is spent”.
Tui Butler discovered a new sense of confidence as a younger member of the community panel.
“Although I’m quite a shy person, I really wanted to get more involved in my community and represent the voice of younger people - who usually don’t get involved in these kinds of things,” Tui said.
“We all had different points of view, however at the end of the day our values were all the same”.
The panel made a number of recommendations which will be considered as priority areas for South East Water. When making their recommendations South East Water asked the panel to consider “How should we balance differing community needs and cost our services effectively for current and future communities?”
The panel recommendations include:
Water security (quality and quantity) achieved sustainably for now and the future - Increase commitment to providing alternative water sources for current and future generations in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
Reliable service across the whole network - Increase spending on maintenance/upgrades to systems and processes to reduce unplanned disruptions, stricter targets on disruptions (fewer disruptions), use environmentally sustainable materials and processes.
Water Security Awareness - Educate all demographics about the importance of water supply, water wastage and disposal, how alternative water sources reduce strain on the network.
Bill to be clear, simple (easy to navigate) and transparent – Provide more facts/tips in every bill for customer’s usage, encourage switching to electronic bills where possible, make the bill accessible to all customers, e.g all languages, ability, and age etc.
Digital Meter Rollout - Replace all meters with digital meters over 5 years, ongoing communication (through the use of an app, SMS or other appropriate method) of accurate, insightful data, timely notification of any faults or leakages also offering flexible payment terms.
Effective and Efficient Communication - Ability to opt in or out of email communication for those with an online account, email notifications of works happening before, during and after disruptions, paper and SMS notices for planned disruptions, SMS alerts for unplanned disruptions.
Delivery of innovative and best service methodology by South East Water - Ensure the delivery of the service and methodology is leading edge and best practice. Aim to be innovative in areas of security of water supply, sustainable delivery of services, be a leader in the use of smart technology aiming to achieve best practice in comparison to similar providers.
Affordable and accessible service - Continue providing bill relief to customers as needed, review tiered pricing for commercial and high water usage customers, create a fund to support vulnerable customers when in need, continue to work with community panels/groups to understand why customers are unable to pay their bills and the support they need.
South East Water Managing Director Lara Olsen said the organisation was very grateful to the panel members for volunteering to take part in this important process and be the customer voice.
“We know that the essential services we provide mean many different things to different people.
“Having a variety of voices and opinions in the room was really valuable. The feedback helps South East Water define and prioritise the services and support we provide to customers,” said Ms Olsen.
South East Water Managing Director, Lara Olsen
South East Water will now consider the panel recommendations, which will inform a services and prices plan called a ‘price submission’ which they need to submit to its independent regulator the Essential Services Commission (ESC).
Find out more and read the full panel report online at
Pictured: Members of our Community Panel present their Price Submission report to South East Water Chair, Lucia Cade (third from left) and Managing Director, Lara Olsen (second from right).
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