Disconnection and restriction
Personal information about our customers has been changed to protect their privacy.
Unable to pay his water bill, customer lives with restricted supply
Mark is a single parent raising three children, living on a low income. His employment is sporadic and he constantly struggles to pay his bills. When Mark contacted EWON for help, his family was living with a restricted water supply.*
He said he owed thousands of dollars and was deeply embarrassed about his circumstances and concerned about its impact on his children. However, he felt it was time to deal with the problem.
We contacted the water provider who confirmed Mark’s arrears had reached nearly $11,000, including over $3,000 in interest and a debt of $3,300 that was transferred on purchase of the property. Although the water provider had restricted Mark’s supply on several occasions, consumption levels indicated unauthorised reconnection had occurred each time. The water provider acknowledged Mark’s financial hardship and the fact he was actively seeking to take responsibility for the account and to resolve the situation.
Mark’s financial situation was assessed by a financial counsellor. The water provider reconnected supply and agreed to a significant payment in Payment Assistance Scheme vouchers on the account, providing that Mark made regular $100 fortnightly payments over the next three months. The water provider also arranged for a plumber to fix leaks at Mark’s property free of charge. Mark accepted the water provider’s offer and agreed to contact them immediately if he could not make a payment.
* For public health reasons, water companies do not generally cut off supply. They usually restrict the water supply to allow only a very limited flow to the property.
Kara's story: Non-payment leads to water restriction
Water restriction imposed when customer fails to meet payment plan
Kara called EWON when her water supply was restricted. She owed her water provider $1,760 and had received restriction warning notices but was unable to pay her bills as she had recently lost her business, had no income, and was in serious financial difficulty.
She had previously agreed to pay her water provider $100 per fortnight but had not been able to keep to this arrangement and instead had been paying around $50 a fortnight. EWON called Kara’s water provider to discuss reconnecting her supply and was advised that they required an upfront payment of $815 to cover her missed payments and consumption over the past 6 months.
Kara could only afford to pay $200 and so EWON referred her to the Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) available through the community agencies in her area. Her water provider liaised with the community agency to authorise additional PAS above the usual limit, given Kara’s extreme circumstances. She obtained $700 in PAS vouchers and was referred to Centrelink to discuss her financial situation.
Kara agreed to commit to a $100 a month payment plan with all future bills payable when due and was relieved to have her water restriction lifted that day.
Fenton's story: Disconnection notice issued for an amount promised as credit
Disconnection notice issued for an amount promised as credit
When Fenton signed up for a new dual fuel account, he was told he would receive $100 credit towards his first bill. He never received the discount so he contacted the retailer, who said they would sort it out.
He then received a disconnection notice for $100 and spoke to the retailer again. They assured Fenton they would fix the problem and advised him his account was at $0, but then he received another disconnection warning for $100. Fenton decided to contact EWON for help.
We spoke to the retailer who confirmed that the account was paid in full and that Fenton was not at risk of disconnection. They also explained that the $100 credit promised was applied some months earlier, but acknowledged that this was not readily apparent from the the bills and that it was reasonable for the customer to be confused.
Given this, the retailer offered to apply a $100 credit as a customer service gesture and said they would stop the incorrect disconnection notices from being sent out.
Shirl's story: pensioner with health issues faces dual fuel disconnection
Shirl faces impending electricity and gas disconnection
When an officer arrived to disconnect her electricity supply for non-payment, Shirl explained she operates a nebuliser to manage her lung disease and the officer left without completing the disconnection. Her dual fuel account was overdue and she wanted to avoid the gas and electricity being disconnected, so she contacted EWON for help.
Shirl is on a disability pension and her partner had just become employed again. She explained that she couldn’t pay the full $600 she believed was owing on the account upfront, but that she could make a $200 payment right away and they could then manage to pay $100 per fortnight to bring down the arrears.
When we spoke with the retailer, they advised that there was $1200 owing on the electricity account and $305 on the gas account. They agreed to put a hold on the accounts and to accept the payment plan Shirl considered was manageable. They confirmed that Shirl was already receiving the Low Income Household Rebate and agreed to send her an application form for the medical energy rebate, which her circumstances suggested she might also be eligible to receive.
We advised Shirl that she could apply to a community agency for EAPA* vouchers to help reduce her arrears and we provided her with referrals to EAPA agents in her area. Shirl said she would take the medical rebate form to her doctor to complete it.
* Energy Account Payment Assistance
Caroline's story: Solar installation by landlord causes cancellation of tenant's account
Solar installation leads to tenant’s account being cancelled
Caroline's landlord contacted her to advise that tradespeople would be attending the property to quote on solar panel installation, but she didn't need to be at home to meet them.
After the tradespeople had been to the house, Caroline came home to find solar panels installed, but no power supply. She called her electricity retailer to report a fault and was told that the account was now in her landlord’s name, so they could not speak with her.
The retailer reconnected the electricity to the property but maintained they could not discuss the transfer of the account with her as she was neither the account holder nor an authorised party. Caroline contacted EWON for help in having her account reinstated.
EWON discussed the situation with the retailer who explained that the account had to be transferred into the landlord’s name in order for the landlord to receive the benefit of the feed-in tariff under the Solar Bonus Scheme. Caroline’s account had automatically been closed as part of this process. The retailer noted that there could only be one account at the property, so the charges could not be split between solar energy generation and usage.
We advised Caroline that as the account was in the owner’s name, he now held responsibility for the charges and that a new tenancy agreement would have to be established should he want her to pay for her consumption. Caroline reported that the owner intended to invoice her for usage. We suggested that Caroline contact a tenant advisory service to discuss this invoicing arrangement.
Ciro's story: disconnected after transfer delay
Delayed transfer causes new tenant to be disconnected
Ciro established a gas account with Retailer A and paid the first quarterly bill. The next quarter he received a bill for $170 from Retailer B. He called Retailer A and was advised to ignore the bill and contact Retailer B to request a transfer back to Retailer A. Ciro did this and then went overseas for a month. When he returned home he found his gas had been disconnected.
He called EWON for help. EWON’s investigation found that Retailer B had the billing rights to Ciro’s address and that the account was in the name of the previous tenant, who had applied to switch from Retailer A to Retailer B. The transfer had then been delayed and the previous tenant didn’t contact Retailer B to cancel the transfer before he moved out. The transfer went ahead but not until after Ciro had moved in. In light of this, it appeared that Ciro had been billed correctly by Retailer B.
Ciro’s gas was reconnected and Retailer B offered a $60 customer service gesture due to the disconnection of his supply. Ciro was satisfied with the outcome and decided to establish an account with Retailer B.
Miles' story: Customer disconnected for five days when account was transferred in error
Customer disconnected for five days when account was transferred in error
When Miles discovered his electricity had been disconnected, he decided to ride his bike to his mother’s home. But on the way he was involved in an accident and spent the night in hospital where he underwent surgery. Two days later, when Miles had gone to his mother’s place to recover, he called his retailer about the disconnection. They advised him that his account had in fact been transferred to another supplier.
Miles’ mother, Daria, then spoke with the new retailer, who said they had mistakenly entered Miles’ unit number and transferred him in error some months earlier. They said they would reconnect Miles’ supply that day and would call back to follow up. When neither happened, Daria called EWON for assistance.
Some delays with reconnection meant Miles’ unit remained disconnected for five days. During this time, he was staying with his mother and recovering from his accident. Daria explained that he wanted for food spoilage and for the inconvenience caused by the retailer's error. The retailer agreed to pay Miles $453 to cover his food loss and said they would not bill him the $170 owing for usage in the period before the retrospective transfer they made back to his previous retailer, who would bill him from then on.
Daria responded that this was not sufficient compensation for the inconvenience. EWON negotiated with the retailer who agreed to make a further goodwill gesture of $580. Miles accepted the offer and the matter was resolved.
Edward's story: electricity disconnection
Customer with mental health issues faces disconnection
Edward is on a disability pension. He came home from a hospital stay to find a letter from his electricity retailer requesting that he increase his fortnightly payments from $20 to $35 or face disconnection. He couldn’t afford this and found it hard to negotiate with the retailer so he contacted EWON for help.
Edward said he had approached EWON for help before and we had referred him to agencies, that distribute EAPA*. He had approached a number of community agencies however, some said they had run out of vouchers and others would not deal with him because of his conduct. He said he found it difficult to deal with people and it was hard for him to attend EAPA appointments.
With the assistance of his mental health case worker, Edward was able to obtain EAPA that reduced his debt to $71, which was manageable. He agreed to increase his payment instalments to $27 per fortnight to cover his consumption. His retailer was aware of the efforts Edward was making to get his account in order. The retailer prevented any disconnection activity while he was making these arrangements, and also waived the final balance on his bill to allow him to make a fresh start. Edward acknowledged he may need to increase his payment plan in the future.
*Energy Accounts Payment Assistance
Donald's story: Vulnerable customer transferred then disconnected
Carer comes home from hospital to find her disabled son’s electricity disconnected
Donald is autistic and cannot read or write. He lives alone in a public housing apartment and his mother Deborah assists with his affairs. Deborah was in hospital for an extended period when an energy marketer from Retailer B knocked at Donald’s door and arranged for his account to be transferred from Retailer A to Retailer B.
Twelve months later, Deborah returned home from hospital and discovered that Donald had been disconnected the day before and that he had accrued arrears of $1,250 with Retailer B. Deborah called Retailer B to have the account transferred back to Retailer A but was unsuccessful. Deborah called EWON explaining her son would not have understood the marketer and the implications of any contract. Donald had kept a fortnightly payment arrangement with Retailer A for many years and thought his payment arrangement was covering his bills with Retailer B.
EWON called Retailer B to put a hold on the account. We reviewed the signature on the contract as well as the voice recording and found there was no indication that Donald understood the terms of the contract nor that he was agreeing to transfer the account.
Retailer B sent him letters warning of disconnection but, as he had had no assistance to interpret them at the time, he ignored the letters. Retailer B had also attempted to call him, but EWON’s investigation found that the mobile number on the contract was fabricated – Donald did not operate a land line or mobile phone.
EWON also found Donald was still making payments to a closed account with Retailer A. He had accrued $1,915 in credit with Retailer A while he accumulated arrears of $1,250 with Retailer B. Retailer A sent Donald a cheque for $1,915. Acknowledging the breach of the marketing code of conduct and Donald’s vulnerable position, Retailer B waived all arrears on the account.
Donald’s account was transferred back to Retailer A and EWON sent him a ‘No marketing’ sticker for the front door of his apartment.
Caitlyn's story: disconnection investigation yields a happy discovery
Investigation of Caitlyn’s electricity disconnection leads to a valuable discovery
Caitlyn contacted EWON when her electricity was disconnected for arrears of $516 and she couldn’t resolve the matter with the supplier. She had been living in the premises, but she was not able to get an authority to act from the account holder, her partner Rob, because he was incarcerated. Caitlyn had already lost refrigerated food and had been up through the night operating a battery powered aerator to preserve the fish in her tanks.
EWON discussed the matter with the electricity retailer, who advised that their records showed that Caitlyn had previously held an account with them for the property. It had been transferred to another provider the previous year and, when the account was returned to the retailer, it was under Rob’s name. Although Caitlyn’s account had been closed, the Centrepay arrangement she had established for it was still in place and $3,150 in payments had since accrued. The retailer recommended that Caitlyn open an account in her name and accept a refund for these funds.
Caitlyn was very happy to agree to this offer.