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
Jarrod's story: Small business faces billing problems
Small business owner loses confidence in his retailer’s billing accuracy
Jarrod is a small business owner and receives his electricity bill every month. He discovered two of the payments he made did not appear on his electricity account. He made enquiries with his electricity company but they were unable to provide an explanation.
Not long after, Jarrod received a disconnection notice. Frustrated with the poor customer service and still unsure that his payments had been properly credited to his account, he called EWON and requested an investigation.
EWON contacted Jarrod’s electricity company and placed a hold on his account. To avoid a build up of arrears Jarrod was encouraged to pay what he considered was a reasonable sum towards his account.
EWON reviewed the billing information and found that his electricity company had reversed a number of bills and one of his payments was applied much later. Both of his disputed payments had been applied to his account and the outstanding amount he owed was $2,600.
Jarrod was satisfied that his billing was correct and agreed to electricity payment arrangement of $100 per fortnight with current accounts paid by the due date.
Cuong's bakery disputes a $16,000 backbill despite reducing consumption
Cuong runs a bakery and was shocked when his business received a large back bill from his new electricity retailer for over $16,000. Cuong said that they had recently transferred to the new retailer and their normal consumption was around $4,000 and now there was over $30,000 owing on the account. Cuong thought that the bakery’s consumption should have actually decreased as they were no longer baking cakes at the premises.
Cuong’s partner Hanh contacted their retailer twice to discuss the high bill. The retailer tested the meter and found it to be working correctly, but they decided to replace it anyway. Cuoing and Hanh were told that they needed to a make payment so they called EWON for some help as they weren’t sure whether the bills they were receiving were an accurate reflection of their consumption.
We contacted the retailer and requested meter and billing data as Cuong and Hanh were disputing the accuracy of the invoice. The retailer made a commercial offer to reduce the bill by $2,000 and referred the case to the distributor to review the meter data.
The distributor investigated the meter data and confirmed its accuracy, but they acknowledged that there was a high jump in their bills. The retailer then said that a catch up read had contributed to the higher than expected account balance, and that they would now be willing to apply a credit of $4,000 to the account to resolve the matter. We requested the meter reading data so we could present the offer to Cuong and Hanh with all the information.
After we reviewed the data, we advised the retailer that there were discrepancies in the tariff that needed to be looked into before we would inform Hanh and Cuong of the commercial offer. It appeared that the shoulder consumption was being registered as peak consumption and vice versa.
The distributor then arranged for a contractor to check the new meter was configured correctly and being read correctly. They confirmed that peak and shoulder consumption was registering incorrectly and therefore the electricity bills issued to Cuong since the meter was installed were incorrect.
The retailer then correctly rebilled Cuong’s account to match the business’ consumption, resulting in an amended balance of $16,688. The retailer also applied an additional credit to their account for $82 to waive the meter test fee as well as a goodwill credit of $500 to acknowledge their delay in identifying and fixing the error.
Cuong and Hanh agreed to a bill smoothing payment arrangement of $500 per week to cover the ongoing consumption and arrears.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, customer compensated by provider, provider provided apology to customer. Issues: Small business, backbillling, metering, large arrears.
Bills arriving from a different retailer cause confusion for Bernie
Bernie made an appointment with EWON staff at one of our Bring Your Bills events because she was confused about why she had started receiving energy bills from a different retailer. A few months ago, Bernie had agreed to participate in a phone survey but said that she did not agree to enter into a contract with this new retailer.
Bernie received a welcome letter from the new retailer, Retailer B, and later she received a bill from them for $120 for the quarterly supply period. Bernie spoke with the company a number of times but wasn’t getting anywhere with them. They would only agree to cancel her contract if she paid for her usage and an early termination fee. Bernie then started receiving calls from a debt collection agency so she paid $90 to avoid further debt recovery action. She was now receiving bills again from her previous, preferred retailer, but she considered she shouldn’t have paid any money to Retailer B.
EWON contacted Retailer B to request the voice recording of the phone call during which her account was established and queried whether she had made contact to cancel the contract during the 10 day cooling off period. Retailer B was able to provide a voice recording in which Bernie appeared to give the explicit informed consent required, and their records indicated she had not contacted the retailer until sometime after the cooling off period.
We contacted Karen, Bernie‘s advocate, and she informed us that Bernie has an intellectual disability and may have been too embarrassed to tell Retailer B that she didn’t understand what she was agreeing to. Karen gave us permission to disclose this to the retailer in the hope that it would assist getting the early termination fee refunded.
Retailer B agreed to refund the early termination fee as a customer service gesture in recognition of Bernie’s vulnerable circumstances and posted a bank cheque out to her in the mail.
Bernie’s advocate said this would resolve the complaint for Bernie and we suggested Bernie add herself to the Do Not Call Register to avoid future telemarketing calls.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution. Issues: Vulnerable customer, energy marketing.
Nadine is concerned that neither her rebates nor discounts are being applied to her account
Nadine called EWON for the second time after she was unhappy with her energy provider’s decision not to amend her high electricity bills. Nadine previously told EWON that she had received three bills, totalling $2,977, and that she thought her retailer had incorrectly billed her following a transfer from another retailer. Nadine also noted that she had concerns regarding off-peak charges that she considered high, and that her pension and life support rebate that she received for the use of her CPAP machine had not been applied to her account. On top of these issues, Nadine also believed that the 11% discount she agreed to when transferring to her new retailer was never applied.
When EWON called the retailer to discuss the complaint, the retailer agreed to add the two rebates and the pay on time discount and also offered Nadine a credit of $129 in recognition of the delays in resolving the case, reducing the amount owing to $2,400. Nadine said she did not want to accept the customer service gesture to resolve the case and she requested EWON continue our investigation.
EWON’s review of Nadine’s account found a number of issues. The pay on time discount was not applied originally but had since been applied for all billing periods. The life support rebate and the low income household rebate were not applied in some periods. The retailer credited Nadine’s account $195 in lieu of this.
The retailer also offered a $454 credit to compensate for the considerably higher than regulated retail rates, even accounting for discounts, that were applied to Nadine’s account for a three year period. It appeared that the rates for some of the billing period were incorrect and based on another distributor’s network tariff structure.
The application of the rebates, discounts and billing adjustment reduced Nadine’s account balance to $1,901. Nadine was given a nine month extension to pay with the understanding that all new bills were to be paid by the due date.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, arrears waived. Issues: Application of rebates, tariff.
Single parent Frances has multiple debts and is credit listed for a high energy bill
Frances switched her electricity account over to a new retailer after being persuaded that it would be cheaper for her. She had been with the new retailer for a few months when she received a bill for around $2,500, which was much higher than her previous bills.
Frances transferred back to her previous retailer and began receiving calls from a debt collector pursuing the money she owed the other supplier. As a single parent supporting her family on income from casual work and a pension, Frances could not afford to pay the bill. A community legal agency was helping her manage her debts and brought her case to EWON for investigation.
Frances acknowledged that she had used the air conditioner regularly at the house, from which she had since moved, as it was poorly insulated, but she was shocked that the bill was so large and couldn’t believe it was correct. We told Frances we would ask for some information from the retailer and investigate the accuracy of the bill, and explained that we could help her negotiate a payment plan if the billing did appear correct.
When we spoke to the retailer we discovered that Frances had been credit listed by them for $2,500, for a bill for usage between June 2013 and June 2014. They agreed to have the debt collector stop contacting Frances for a month while we investigated the case. We established with Frances and her then housing provider that Frances had vacated the billed property in June 2013. Further, a disconnection notice was issued for a debt of $672 dollars in November 2013, but the disconnection was not completed and the account remained open, allowing the debt to accrue.
EWON asked the retailer why this had occurred and they advised it was because there was a mismatch between addresses and meter numbers. They reiterated that it is the customer’s responsibility to close their account when they move out of a property, which Frances had not done. They argued that since Frances had not made any payments towards the account, even at the time the disconnection was raised, she would still have been defaulted listed, so the amount was irrelevant.
After further discussion, the retailer confirmed that Frances vacated the premises before they became the provider and that this was why no bills were paid. They then agreed to waive the arrears of $2,746 and immediately raised a request for the credit listing to be removed. We reported this to Frances and to the legal officer assisting her. Frances said she was very pleased with the outcome and that she was working to clear her credit history in order to get a home loan.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, referral to community agency, EAPA and provider’s hardship team. Issues: Financial hardship, large arrears, denied payment plan.
Pensioners with eight children are denied a payment plan
EWON received a letter from a financial counsellor who was acting as an advocate for Penny. Penny and her husband Nathan were experiencing extreme financial hardship. They were reliant on pensions for their income as Nathan had recently become disabled following an accident, Penny was his carer and they had 8 school age children. Penny and Nathan had accrued a very large debt with their electricity retailer and were facing disconnection.
The financial counsellor tried to discuss the matter with Penny’s retailer to to make an affordable payment arrangement and stop the impending disconnection. The financial counsellor told the retailer that that they could afford to pay for their current usage of $277 per fortnight. However, they would need some extra time and help with the arrears. The retailer denied their request to enter into a payment plan because Penny had already broken five payment plans in the last year and had only made sporadic payments to the account. A $500 payment had recently been made with EAPA vouchers.
The account was placed on hold while EWON investigated the complaint. Penny requested a $250 per month payment plan to cover arrears alongside a promise to pay all future bills on time. The retailer declined this offer saying it would not accept a payment plan for arrears only and that the standard payment plan to cover the arrears of around $6000 plus ongoing usage would be $477 per fortnight. As a goodwill gesture however, the retailer said it would give Penny a final opportunity to be part of the hardship program and would accept a payment plan for usage.
We advised the advocate that it was very important that Penny stick to the payment plan, as the retailer would not likely offer it again and the standard plan which she might then be moved to would be over $500 per fortnight. We provided referrals to community agencies for more EAPA assistance but noted that while this would reduce the arrears this particular retailer did not count EAPA as an instalment payment. We also emphasised the importance of contacting the retailer if there were going to be any problems making a payment. The advocate acknowledged this and thanked EWON for the assistance we provided.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, referral to community agency, EAPA and provider’s hardship team. Issues: Financial hardship, large arrears, denied payment plan.
Jeremy struggles to negotiate an affordable payment plan with his retailer
When Jeremy came to EWON for help, he had received a letter from his electricity retailer informing him that he was at risk of being disconnected in 14 business days for unpaid arrears of $3,170. Jeremy had been unemployed for the previous 12 months and placed on the retailer’s hardship program, but had since been removed from it for on the grounds that he had broken two payment plan arrangements.
Jeremy was now working, but he needed a payment plan to manage his arrears, so he offered to pay $100 per week. The retailer denied this offer based on his payment history. When we first spoke to the retailer it said that Jeremy would need to pay 50% of the balance upfront and then make weekly repayments of $109 in order to establish a new payment plan. Jeremy could not afford to pay this amount but advised us he could pay $500 within a week and then $100 per week by direct debit to cover his ongoing usage and arrears.
The retailer accepted Jeremy’s offer and agreed to review the payment plan after each bill. We explained to Jeremy that he could access EAPA vouchers for assistance in the future and spoke to him about ways to minimise consumption to ensure that his future bills didn’t add to his existing debt. Jeremy said that he had obtained EAPA at the beginning of his bill difficulties, but that he felt uncomfortable accepting charity. We explained that it is government funded support, which he hadn’t realised, and he accepted our referral to services issuing EAPA.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, referral to EAPA. Issues: Financial hardship, denied payment plan, large arrears.
Single parent Louise living in remote NSW has large debt and is facing impending disconnection
Louise lives in a very isolated area of NSW with her four children. She had been on a payment plan with her energy retailer for $230 a fortnight to cover the cost of her electricity consumption and pay down her large debt. However, Louise had only been able to manage payments of $100 each fortnight and considered that $50 payments would be more affordable as she had other debts to consider. Louise was warned that she was at risk of being disconnected so she spoke with EWON staff who visited her community on outreach.
EWON contacted Louise’s retailer and they placed the account on hold to stop any potential disconnection from occurring. The retailer said that there was over $3,000 owing on the account and the standard payment plan to cover arrears and consumption would be $256 per fortnight. The retailer said that Louise’s existing payment plan was for $230 a fortnight because that reflected her consumption at the time it was established. However, her consumption had decreased to $148 per fortnight.
Taking into consideration Louise’s payment history, and willingness to pay, the retailer offered Louise a payment plan of $148 per fortnight for three months and then after that, if she kept up with the payments, they would match her payments dollar for dollar.
Louise accepted this payment arrangement.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, referred to provider’s hardship team. Issues: Financial hardship, large arrears, impending disconnection.
Geraldine is disconnected when she can't afford a payment plan
During a joint outreach event in regional NSW, a community legal service referred Geraldine’s case to EWON because she was experiencing extreme financial hardship and at risk of having her electricity disconnected due to large arrears. She had been on a carer’s pension but was moved to the Newstart allowance when her mother died.
Geraldine had been removed from her energy retailer’s hardship program because she had previously defaulted on her payment plan three times and owed more than $5,400. The retailer told Geraldine that in order to avoid disconnection, she needed to agree to make payments of $205 a fortnight towards the account. Geraldine was unable to afford this amount because her Centrelink allowance was not enough to cover her rent as well as the multiple other debts she was paying off including a funeral plan and ‘payday lender’ loan. Geraldine’s electricity was then disconnected because she couldn’t meet the retailer’s requirements.
EWON contacted Geraldine’s retailer to discuss her situation and arrange a reconnection. Geraldine’s retailer said that her current consumption was around $109 per fortnight and that she hadn’t made a payment on her account in over a year. They also said that normally payments of $309 per fortnight would be required to cover her current level of consumption and debt.
Following discussion with EWON the retailer agreed to allow Geraldine back onto their hardship program with fortnightly payments via Centrepay of $109 per fortnight. The retailer said they would match her payments one for one. Geraldine accepted this offer and had an appointment with a financial counsellor to assist her to set up a Centrepay arrangement. Geraldine’s electricity was reconnected the same day.
Category: Complaint enquiry. Outcome: Referred to provider’s hardship team. Issues: Financial hardship, disconnection.
Malcolm wants compensation for generator costs and food loss during a long blackout
Malcolm was working on his roof when a 55 hour blackout began. Malcolm called his distributor and told them that he needed power to keep working on the roof of his house as it was exposed. Malcolm said he was advised by the distributor to take the cheapest option to restore power – which Malcolm explained was to purchase a generator for $1,200 – and to submit a claim for compensation afterwards.
Later Malcolm made a claim for food spoilage plus the cost of the generator, but he was dissatisfied when the distributor said they would pay $450 to cover food loss and $150 towards the generator. He believed that the blackout had resulted from the cable being laid too shallowly and, as he considered it was due to the distributor’s negligence, he wanted it to pay $1,000 towards the generator he had purchased.
Malcolm asked EWON to look into the matter. We explained that we could review the reasonableness of the distributor’s offer, but that distributors do not guarantee supply 100% of the time. EWON spoke with the distributor and they explained that the damaged cable was not on land. It was an underwater cable and was taken onto the land to carry out repairs, therefore it would not have been buried underground at all. They also noted that their staff would not have advised Malcolm to purchase a generator and make a claim afterwards as this was against their policy.
We considered that there were special circumstances in Malcolm’s case. His roof was exposed, he had three phase power and he lived on an island. These factors created urgency for power supply, delayed the reconnection and made it more costly to get the generator on site. We advised that in these circumstances it was reasonable for the distributor to increase their compensation offer by an amount equivalent to the expected cost of an additional two days’ generator hire because that was how long the power was off.
The distributor agreed to offer a settlement of $750. Malcolm accepted this offer and thanked us for our help.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, customer compensated by provider. Issues: Compensation, supply, customer service.
Andrea overpays bills by thousands of dollars due to a problem with meter data
Andrea received a higher than normal electricity bill and disputed it with her retailer. When she was unable to resolve the issue directly with them, she came to EWON and asked us to investigate the accuracy of the bill. Based on the information available at the time, EWON’s investigation concluded that Andrea was billed appropriately.
Sometime later, Andrea was still unhappy with the outcome so she returned to EWON with further information relevant to the case, and requested an internal review of the matter. The metering arrangements had recently been changed from “subtractive metering” (a master meter and a sub meter) to a standalone meter. Subtractive metering required an adjustment to the meter data. The retailer’s billing system did not support this type of meter data adjustment. However, they agreed to a manual billing adjustment to rectify the issue and adjusted the account down from $2,710 to $1,771.
The retailer also offered a customer service gesture of $140 to acknowledge the delay in resolving the matter. A further review identified a discrepancy with the billing data dating back to September 2005, so Andrea also raised concerns about the historical billing of the account. This resulted in further investigation by the energy distributor that resulted in the retailer reimbursing $7,466 for overpaid bills. As a different retailer held the billing rights prior to the current retailer, the distributor reimbursed the customer $3,808 in overpayments on the former account. This resulted in a total of $11,274 being refunded to Andrea.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution, customer compensated by provider. Issues: High bill, metering, significant provider error.
Referral back to her retailer leads to a satisfying outcome for Maya
Maya received a brochure in the mail advertising an energy deal from her retailer that she thought looked very good, so she contacted the retailer to sign up. The retailer told Maya that the special offer was only supposed to be for customers in Victoria and that it had been mailed out to her in error so they could not offer her the deal.
Maya called EWON because she thought that since she was offered the deal, she should be able to take advantage of it. We referred Maya to her retailer’s specialist dispute resolution team and told her that the company should contact her within two business days to attempt to resolve the complaint.
A few weeks later, EWON received a letter from Maya thanking EWON for helping with her complaint and advising that she was happy with the outcome of our referral as her retailer had agreed to honour the offer.
Category and outcome: Refer to higher level. Issue: Energy marketing.
Daniel's story: Customer questions accuracy of delayed bills
Customer questions accuracy of delayed bills
Daniel contacted EWON when he couldn’t afford an upfront payment of $3000 to prevent disconnection of his electricity supply.
Daniel said he had been with his current retailer for two years and the company was always late sending bills. The bills varied greatly, from $300 to $500, and $1000 to $1700, and he was concerned that they weren’t accurate. He had recently gained employment but prior to that he had a Centrepay arrangement of $30 per fortnight towards his electricity account.
Daniel said he lived at the property with his wife and six children, and they only had basic appliances including a small fan heater and a dryer, which they rarely used.
We discussed with Daniel the impact of his large family on electricity usage and the likelihood that his previous payments of $30 per fortnight were not sufficient to cover his consumption. Daniel said he had received EAPA* vouchers in the past but as his bills continued to be high he was struggling to reduce his arrears.
EWON contacted the retailer who put a hold on the disconnection. The retailer checked the billing history and advised that Daniel’s usage was consistent, however he had accumulated arrears due to a transfer of debt from his previous property. As Daniel had made regular payments in the past, the retailer proposed a payment arrangement of $110 per fortnight to cover current usage and arrears. They also offered Daniel participation in their hardship program, and to match his payments if he kept to the plan.
We explained to Daniel that the hardship program would protect him from disconnection action and would help him to manage his electricity account. Daniel accepted this and the retailer’s payment plan offer.
*Energy Accounts Payment Assistance
Lee's story: Customer who couldn't afford to be on hold
Customer who couldn’t afford to be on hold
Lee lives in social housing and relies on a Centrelink benefit for her income. She owed $2200 and was facing disconnection of her electricity supply so she called EWON for help.
Lee had received a call from a field officer who advised that he intended to disconnect her electricity the next day. The field officer didn’t leave a message or his name, and every time she contacted the retailer to discuss the situation she received a message that they were experiencing a high number of calls and she would be placed on hold.
Lee told EWON she couldn’t afford to be on hold for extended periods as she had a pre-paid mobile phone. She also commented it wasn’t appropriate to use a public phone and be on hold for a long time, as other people may want to use the phone.
Lee had committed to a payment arrangement of $60 per fortnight some time ago and thought she had made all the payments she agreed to. She had also approached a community agency for EAPA* vouchers but they were unable to assist her.
EWON contacted the retailer to discuss Lee’s complaint. The retailer found that Lee had been making payments, but towards a closed account at her previous address and this had not been picked up by their credit department. The retailer stopped the disconnection action and offered to contact the customer directly to provide the correct account number and to re-establish a payment arrangement.
We advised Lee of the retailer’s offer and she was satisfied with the result. We also provided Lee with referrals to other EAPA distributors in her area.
Bert's story: Lost EAPA vouchers results in debt collection
Lost EAPA vouchers results in debt collection
Bert, a pensioner, was struggling to pay his electricity bill of $99, which was a month overdue. He approached a community agency for help and they provided him with three EAPA vouchers ($90). As his retailer didn’t allow for payment of these vouchers at the post office, he sent the vouchers by mail as required.
A month later Bert received a notice from a debt collection agency, advising that he needed to pay $157 or he would be credit default listed.
Bert contacted EWON for help. He said he had mailed vouchers before and was sure he had sent them to the correct address.
We contacted Bert’s retailer who acknowledged that they had experienced problems with lost vouchers. The retailer offered to waive the amount owing on the account and to stop any further debt collection action. Bert was satisfied with the outcome.
Sandra's story: Failure to close account results in default listing
Failure to close account results in default listing
Sandra contacted EWON after being credit default listed for a $140 electricity debt which she considered was not hers.
Sandra said she owns a rental property which she used to live in. Sandra moved out of the property without closing the electricity account, because she thought the new tenant would open an account under their name.
When Sandra was contacted by the retailer about an outstanding bill for the property, she provided the retailer with the new tenant’s contact details.
The retailer later confirmed the account had been transferred into the tenant’s name and Sandra thought the matter was settled. She was unaware there was money owing on the account until she was denied a credit card because of a credit default listing.
Sandra contacted the retailer who said the tenant had only taken responsibility for part of the amount owing. Sandra disputed this however the retailer refused to remove the default listing.
We asked Sandra whether she could provide information to show when she moved out of the property and the energy account became the responsibility of the new tenant. Sandra provided a copy of the lease and we contacted the retailer to discuss her complaint.
The retailer accepted Sandra’s position that the debt was not hers and agreed to remove the credit default listing.
Sam's story: Customer's request denied due to poor payment history
Customer's request denied due to poor payment history
Sam was having trouble obtaining a home loan because he had been credit default listed for an electricity debt of $238. He had been unaware of the default listing, and paid the debt owing when he found out about it. Sam thought the listing would be removed after he paid the debt, however it wasn’t, and he called EWON for help.
Sam said he found out about the default listing when he recently applied for a home loan. The listing was due to expire in a few months as it related to an address he lived at over five years ago, but he needed to secure finance earlier.
To ensure the retailer had followed the correct procedure, we asked Sam about his previous account. Sam acknowledged that he hadn’t called the retailer to close his account and he hadn’t provided them with a forwarding address.
EWON contacted the retailer to discuss Sam’s complaint and to retrieve his billing history. The retailer’s records showed Sam had paid the initial security deposit for his electricity account. However, Sam hadn’t paid anything towards his account after this, leaving the retailer with a debt of $238. The retailer had then sent six warning letters addressed to Sam at the old property, before proceeding to debt collection and the default listing. Given Sam’s poor payment history, the retailer declined to remove the listing early.
We explained to Sam that according to the law, when a bill is 60 days overdue, the retailer is required to send one written notice to the last known address. If payment is not received within 60 days, they can default list a customer if the amount owing is over $100. We also advised Sam that a retailer is not obliged to remove a credit listing after the debt has been paid. Given these circumstances, unfortunately EWON was not able to take any action.
Jinhai's story: marketer misleads vulnerable customer
Door to door energy marketer takes advantage of Jinhai’s limited English
Jinhai was at home when a door to door energy marketer visited his street and said that he would receive a pensioner rebate and $50 off his bill if he signed up. His daughter, Daiyu, who lives in the house next door, was out at the time, but the marketer told Jinhai that his relatives at other premises would receive the same rebate if he signed them up too.
Jinhai has limited English and he told the marketer he didn’t really understand the contract. He asked to speak with a Mandarin interpreter before agreeing to anything and the marketer said he would arrange this. He then instructed Jinhai to just say yes to everything the energy retailer representative told him over the phone and said that a Mandarin speaker would get back to him to explain. The marketer then left and when Jinhai didn’t receive a call back from a Mandarin speaker as he was expecting, he assumed that no confirmation had gone through.
Daiyu realised that the contracts had been established when her father received welcome letters from the new retailer and her mother received a letter to say her account was being closed. Daiyu wanted the three accounts transferred back and rang the new retailer to try to resolve the problem, but as her father was now the account holder they would not discuss the matter with her. They advised that an early termination fee would apply to each account if they were transferred.
We organised a Mandarin interpreter to assist in providing the authority to act required for Daiyu to advocate on her father’s behalf. We then discussed the complaint with the new retailer. The company agreed to return each of the accounts to the previous retailer and to waive the early termination fee.
Aphra's story: Retailer doesn't action cancellation within the cooling off period
Retailer doesn't action cancellation within the cooling off period
87 year old pensioner Aphra was approached by a door-to-door marketer one night and felt pressured into signing a contract to transfer over to the electricity retailer represented by the marketer. She was uncomfortable with the situation, so decided to cancel the contract.
Two days after the marketer’s visit an advocate at Aphra’s local council contacted the retailer on her behalf to request the cancellation. Aphra also posted a letter to the retailer requesting the cancellation of her contract.
Some weeks later, Aphra was advised that her account had been transferred, despite the letter and phone call made within the cooling off period to cancel the transfer. The retailer advised that they hadn’t received Aphra’s letter, but she had retained a registered post slip confirming the letter she sent had been received and signed for.
Aphra considered that her account should never have been transferred and wanted it returned to her previous retailer at no cost. EWON spoke with the retailer, who agreed to transfer Aphra back to her previous retailer without charge or penalty.
Hayley's story: Marketer signs up 16 year old non-account holder
Marketer signs up 16 year old non-account holder
Hayley was alone at her sister’s home when a door-to-door marketer arrived. Hayley took down the details of the offer to pass onto her brother-in-law, Tim, who was the account holder. Tim did not want to take up the offer. He was then contacted by his existing retailer about the transfer and he explained that he did not want the transfer to go ahead.
Some months later, a bill for $412 arrived for Hayley from the retailer that the door-to-door marketer had been promoting. As Hayley’s advocate, Tim contacted EWON for assistance to get the account transferred back into his name and returned to his preferred retailer.
We spoke to the new retailer who said that while they were able to do a retrospective transfer to the previous retailer, their records showed that Hayley was 19, that she had agreed to the contract and that she provided her Medicare card to the marketer. They confirmed that the company could not sign up a 16 year old.
The account was transferred back to Tim with his preferred provider. We established that Hayley was in fact 16 years old and reported this to the retailer, who advised that they would be following up the matter with the marketer who signed Hayley up.
Ronald's story: Vision impaired pensioner signs contract under pressure
Vision impaired pensioner signs contract under pressure
Ronald is an aged pensioner with impaired vision. When he was visited by a door-to-door marketer from an energy retailer, he felt he wasn’t given enough time to think through the offer. Under pressure, he signed a contract and agreed to transfer his account to this retailer.
Ronald wanted the transfer cancelled and to stay with his existing energy retailer. He called the new retailer, but the cooling off period had passed and he felt he did not fully understand all the questions that were asked of him. He came to EWON for help.
We spoke with the new retailer who agreed to transfer Ronald’s account back to his previous retailer and waive any early termination fee.
Kimberly's story: Householder misled by door-to-door marketer
Householder misled by door-to-door marketer
Kimberley was approached at home by a door-to-door marketer from Retailer A who advised her that her current retailer was no longer issuing bills to customers and that she would have to sign an agreement with Retailer A to issue her bills now. Kimberley believed the story and signed the papers.
Soon after, she was contacted by her previous provider to ask why she was transferring. Kimberley explained what the marketer had told her and, realising now that she had been misled, she decided she did not want to go ahead with the transfer. When Kimberley called Retailer A to cancel the contract, she was told she would have to pay a significant amount in termination fees. Kimberley came to EWON for assistance.
When we spoke to Retailer A, they maintained they hadn’t received a cancellation call from Kimberley, but agreed nonetheless to transfer the account back to her previous retailer at no charge and to investigate the marketer.
Anne's story: Loan denial leads to default discovery
Loan denial leads to default discovery
Anne discovered she had been credit listed for an electricity debt of $189 when an application she made for a loan was rejected. She wanted her credit history cleared so she would not be prevented from obtaining credit in the future, so she contacted the retailer and paid the debt. The retailer suggested that she contact a credit repair agent to see about getting the listing removed.
The credit agent engaged by Anne approached the retailer on her behalf, but was unsuccessful in obtaining their agreement to request removal of the listing. The agent then brought the case to EWON.
EWON contacted Anne to confirm that she agreed to being represented by the credit repair agent. We explained that consumers can deal with us directly and that EWON’s service is free. Anne decided to withdraw her permission for the agent to advocate for her and requested that EWON deal directly with her in resolving the matter.
EWON investigated the circumstances around the credit listing. The debt was for an account closed by Anne when she moved interstate. Anne said that she called the retailer to close the account and to request the final bill be sent to her forwarding address, which she provided. Anne said she received no mail or phone call about the account and disputed the default listing on the basis that the prescribed notice was not issued.
The retailer confirmed they had received her request and had mailed the final account to her new address, as provided. Their records showed a number of attempts had been made to contact Anne by phone and mail when payment was not received and that they had acted in accordance with regulatory requirements.
EWON advised Anne that there did not appear to be any basis upon which the retailer would be required to remove the credit listing as it was compliant with the obligations of a credit provider. Unfortunately, Anne had already paid a non-refundable up front fee of $950 to the credit repair agent, so she was left with the default listing on her credit report and a $950 dent in her savings.
Yasmin's story: Transfer delayed for months
Transfer delayed for months
Yasmin, a single mother with two children, had been credit listed by two different energy companies and one telecommunications company for debts accrued with her ex-partner following the failure of their business. The credit repair agent quoted a $990 up front fee and $990 for each listing that was removed.
When the telecommunications listing was removed, the credit repair agent requested that she pay $2,000 up front. The credit repair agent threatened to credit list her when she said that she couldn’t afford this, however, she then entered into an $80 per week payment arrangement.
Yasmin decided to deal directly with EWON after we contacted her to explain that she didn’t need to use a credit repair agent. Yasmin reported that the credit repair agent was confusing to deal with. A voice recording was made of her agreeing to the contract with the credit repair agent. However, when she received a written copy of the contract and recording she noted that the recording stopped at each point where she had questioned anything that she was unsure about.
Yasmin wanted the energy company to review whether there was any basis for listing her debt in the first place. EWON referred Yasmin’s complaint to a senior customer service representative at the company and invited her to contact EWON again if she wasn’t satisfied with the company’s response.
Liang's story: Customer disputes charges for closing account when contract terms change
Customer disputes charges for closing account when contract terms change
Liang opened an account with a new retailer for supply on a peak–period only plan. Within a couple of days he received a letter confirming that the supply would commence in a few days. But several weeks later, the retailer advised him that they would be charging him on a different plan as his meter is not the type that the initial plan is based on.
Liang decided instead to transfer to another supplier who could offer the service he was after and he then received an early termination fee. Liang paid this fee, but he considered it unfair as he would not have signed up for the plan if the retailer had informed him they weren’t able to offer the plan he wanted. Laing wanted to be refunded the fee and he complained to EWON that he had not heard back from the retailer when he tried to raise this with them. EWON spoke to retailer, who agreed this request was reasonable and confirmed that the fee would be refunded to Liang.
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.
Lance's story: Pay on time discount not applied
Pay on time discount not applied
Lance set up a direct debit payment with his electricity retailer, with the amount due to be deducted automatically by the due date. Under his contract, Lance was entitled to a discount for on time payment. When his most recent bill for $410 was issued, $378 was automatically paid from Lance’s account, with the $32 adjustment representing his discount for payment by the due date. But the $32 remained on his account and he received an overdue notice.
The same thing had happened with Lance’s previous bill and he had had to call the retailer to get the discount credited back to his account. So Lance called to have the account corrected again, but despite repeated attempts he couldn’t get through to a customer service representative and was left on hold. Lance then contacted EWON.
We spoke to the retailer who acknowledged there had been an ongoing billing issue affecting Lance’s account. They said they hoped to have it resolved by the time his next bill was due and they credited his account for the discount plus $20 offered as a customer service gesture.
Julia's story: struggling family disconnected
Working family struggles to pay bills and denied EAPA
Julia lives in a rental property with her husband and three children. The family relies on her husband’s income which varies depending on work availability, and this means they struggle to pay their bills at times. Julia received a notice from her gas retailer stating that her service would be disconnected if she didn’t pay her account. Two weeks later a field officer visited Julia and said they would disconnect her supply if she didn’t pay $190 immediately. While the field officer was at the property Julia called the retailer and tried to negotiate a payment plan. However, as she hadn’t kept to her previous arrangement they refused this and requested an upfront payment. She didn’t have the money upfront so her supply was disconnected.
Julia contacted EWON for help and explained that the previous $50 per week payment plan was unaffordable. She had approached two large community agencies about EAPA but they declined to offer her assistance because she was not on the pension. Julia said she was also struggling with her electricity account which was with the same retailer. She said she could afford to pay $20 per fortnight towards the arrears on her gas account. EWON referred Julia to other EAPA distributors and contacted her retailer to discuss a payment arrangement.
The retailer agreed to reconnect Julia’s gas supply and put a hold on her electricity account. Julia received $210 in EAPA towards her gas account and $90 towards her electricity account. The retailer offered to place Julia in their customer assistance program to help her work out affordable payment plans for both her electricity and gas accounts and to protect her from disconnection while she was in the program.
Andrew's story: seeking compensation
Customer seeks compensation for appliance damage
Andrew’s house experienced a power outage that lasted 45 minutes. After the outage, Andrew's two televisions and DVD players would no longer work. He took them to a repairer who said they could not be fixed.
Andrew lodged a claim with the electricity distributor for $1,500 to cover the cost of replacing his appliances. The distributor denied his claim on the basis that the outage, which was caused by a car hitting a power pole and bringing down the lines, was outside their reasonable control.
Andrew was not satisfied with their response and asked EWON to review their decision. Andrew said he disagreed with the distributor’s assessment of the outage, as he believed it was caused by a storm. He said the repairer had also advised him that the damage was due to a storm.
EWON contacted the distributor and obtained their records relating to the incident with the motor vehicle accident. We also obtained a weather record for that day from the Bureau of Meteorology, which indicated moderate rainfall rather than a storm.
EWON explained to Andrew that under a customer contract the distributor does not guarantee supply and is not liable for impacts of occurrences that are outside their control. As such, irrespective of whether the outage was caused by a storm or car crash, the event was beyond the distributor’s reasonable control. Given this, their denial of his claim appeared reasonable.
Aghavni's story: overestimated high bill
Overestimation results in high bill
Aghavni lives alone in a social housing unit with minimal appliances. She received an estimated electricity bill for over $900, which she considered high. Her advocate, Vartan, contacted the retailer to dispute the bill because it was more than double her usual bill and she had been away for part of the billing period. The retailer would not revise their estimate so Vartan contacted EWON for help. Vartan said that Aghavni was very distressed about owing that much money. We explained the EAPA* program and Vartan said he would arrange an appointment.
EWON's investigation showed the retailer had estimated Aghavni's bill because the meter was located inside her unit and the meter reader could not gain access to read it. The estimate was based on her usage for the same period in the previous year, but as she was away for much of period this year, it was in fact an overestimate. The retailer received actal usage data from the distributor and re-billed Aghavni accordingly. This reduced her bill from $908 to $506. In the meantime, Aghavni obtained EAPA assistance, which along with the bill reduction meant she was able to pay her account.
*Energy Accounts Payment Assistance
Lee's story: high bill and consumption
Cafe owner can’t account for high energy consumption
Lee owns a small café and was struggling to pay the business' electricity account. He arranged a payment plan of $400 per week with the retailer to reduce the debt of $9,448. Lee made payments as agreed and managed to reduce his debt to $5,328, when he received a notice of disconnection.
When Lee queried the notice with his retailer, he was told he needed to pay $3,000 by the following week to avoid disconnection. He explained he couldn't afford to pay the lump sum but he could continue making regular payments as before. The retailer said they couldn't stop the disconnection unless he made the lump sum payment.
Lee contacted EWON and said that he was very upset with the attitude of the call centre staff as he felt they were dismissive of his efforts to reduce his arrears. He explained his bills were increasing though nothing had changed with his business operations, and the last bill he received was $5,000 for the quarter.
He had engaged an independent energy auditor who advised Lee that he should be paying around $1,800 to $2,500 per quarter. When he raised this with his retailer, they could not explain the high bill.
EWON discussed Lee's situation with the retailer who acknowledged he had made regular payments but was still in financial difficulty. They stopped the disconnection and agreed that Lee could continue with his original payment plan. The retailer also agreed to investigate Lee's high bill and arranged for a meter test.
While the meter was found to be operating correctly, during the investigation Lee found his hot water service was not working properly. Lee had it replaced and was satisfied that this was the likely cause of his unusually high bills. He was pleased that we had negotiated an extension of his payment plan.
Peggy's story: non-account holder transfer
Customer receives disconnection notice from an unfamiliar retailer
Peggy is an elderly Aboriginal woman living in regional NSW. When she received a disconnection notice from a retailer she had never heard of, Peggy contacted EWON for help.
Peggy explained she had been very ill and bedridden for some time and a family friend had stayed with her. When a marketer visited her property, her friend provided Peggy’s pension details to him, without Peggy’s knowledge or her consent to transfer her account. Peggy only realised there was a problem with her account when she received the disconnection notice. She was concerned about privacy and that a retailer she had never heard of had her personal details. Peggy wanted her account transferred back to her original retailer.
EWON organised for the disconnection action to be stopped and for Peggy’s account to return to her preferred supplier. The retailer acknowledged that Peggy had not agreed to the transfer and waived all the charges owing on Peggy’s account. Her preferred supplier then re-billed her from the transfer date.
Sonia's story: Disconnection for non payment
Customer disconnected after non-payment of bills
Sonia relies on a pension for her income and she lives in public housing with her four children. She was unable to make payments on her electricity account due to financial hardship and her supply was disconnected. With arrears of over $2,500, she was very stressed about her financial situation and contacted Lifeline, who referred her to EWON.
Sonia explained the retailer had offered to put her on their hardship program some months before, but she could not afford to pay the $166 per fortnight they were asking.
We contacted the retailer about reconnection. The retailer said that Sonia had a poor payment history and she had initiated a transfer to a different company. Given this, they would only reconnect if she made an upfront payment of $850 and saw a financial counsellor.
Sonia advised EWON that her application to switch her account to another electricity retailer had been declined due to her credit history. We explained the retailer's offer to Sonia and suggested she seek EAPA* assistance. Sonia agreed with the offer and went to see a financial counsellor. The financial counsellor advised the retailer that Sonia could afford to pay a maximum of $65 per week towards her electricity account.
Sonia’s power was restored the day after the disconnection and she was able to obtain EAPA from two agencies to help reduce her debt. Her retailer placed her on their Hardship Program, where she will receive assistance in managing her account.
*Energy Accounts Payment Assistance
Gayathri's story: transferred without consent
Customer’s electricity account transferred without consent
A marketer from Retailer A came to Gayathri’s apartment while she was out and spoke to her cousin Henry. Henry was on day-release from a refugee detention centre and he spoke limited English.
The marketer advised Henry that Retailer A was the new electricity provider for the area, and that the form needed to be signed to ensure that Gayathri's electricity supply would continue. Henry signed the form the marketer gave him.
When Gayathri found out what had happened, she contacted her previous retailer to cancel the transfer request. She was told that it was too late as the transfer had been completed. Gayathri emailed her previous retailer, but she received no reply. Gayathri called her previous retailer, who referred her to EWON for help.
EWON contacted Gayathri's previous retailer who said the transfer had not been completed as yet and the account was still in her name. We contacted Retailer A who agreed to cancel the transfer.
We advised Gayathri that we would be reporting the misleading marketing to the regulator.
Jeremy's story: transfer without consent
Housesitter signs contract without account holder’s consent
Eng was house-sitting for Jeremy while he was away for 10 days. During that time, a door-to-door energy marketer visited Jeremy’s home and suggested to Eng that she sign a contract. Eng didn’t speak much English and signed the contract without realising Jeremy’s account would be cancelled.
When Jeremy discovered his account had been transferred without his consent, he was very concerned. To complicate matters, Eng was the new account holder at the property but she was no longer in the country, as she had returned to China. Jeremy wasn’t sure when the last bill was paid and he was worried his supply would be disconnected so he contacted EWON for help. He said he just wanted his account transferred back to his original retailer.
EWON explained the situation to the new retailer, who agreed to cancel the contract signed by Eng and arranged to have the account transferred back to Jeremy’s preferred retailer at no cost.
Danny's story: disputed high bill
Customer not satisfied with retailer’s explanation of his high bill
Danny lives in a rental apartment and works from home. He was shocked to receive a quarterly winter bill for $593 when his bill for the same period last year was $375. Danny called his retailer to dispute the high bill and was told that the difference could be due to the recent price rise.
Danny wasn’t satisfied with the retailer’s explanation, so he asked EWON to check the accuracy of his bill. He believed he had used less energy this year and was expecting a bill of around $450, allowing for price increases.
EWON reviewed the billing data provided by Danny’s retailer and found that his consumption had increased 37% compared with previous years and this, along with a price increase, was the likely cause of the higher winter bill. This increased usage was most likely due to his use of a 1200 watt oil filled column heater which he said he had used for 6 to 8 hours each day in winter.
We explained our conclusions to Danny and while he wasn’t happy about the high bill, he accepted the information in the report EWON provided to him.
Raylene's story: Backbill received in time of hardship
Bankrupt customer receives large backbill
Raylene is bankrupt, not working and not receiving welfare benefits. She received an apology letter from her previous electricity company advising her they had incorrectly calculated her previous bills and issued four backbills amounting to $990.
Unable to pay this amount, Raylene contacted the electricity company. Although they offered her a payment plan, she was not satisfied with this resolution. She considered the rule allowing the company to backbill her for 12 months* unfair and wanted them to waive part of the debt.
Frustrated, Raylene came to EWON for assistance. We referred her to a senior staff member from the electricity company to negotiate a payment plan she could reasonably manage.
After reviewing the case, the electricity company applied a $100 credit to Raylene’s account for the inconvenience caused by the backbilling and offered a 12 month payment extension on the outstanding amount. This was in addition to the credit that had already been applied to her account for any arrears older than 12 months. Raylene was satisfied with the outcome.
* Note: as of 1 July 2012, retailers can only recover an undercharge for 9 months.
Jacob's story: Account transferred when broker misled customer
Customer’s account transferred after speaking with switching broker
Jacob has been with Retailer A for ten years, so he was confused when he received a final bill with an early termination fee. He contacted his retailer and found out his account had been transferred to Retailer B.
He had previously contacted an energy broker to discuss options for electricity deals and was advised Retailer B had the best offer, but he did not sign any paperwork authorising the transfer.
Jacob contacted Retailer B several times to request they cancel his transfer but they were unwilling to assist him. Instead they tried to renegotiate the contract with him and said he would have to pay a termination fee if he cancelled.
Unable to resolve the problem, Jacob brought his case to EWON. EWON contacted Retailer B who provided a voice recording of Jacob agreeing to a contract. What Jacob did not realise was that the energy broker had transferred his call to the retailer and he had been speaking to a representative from Retailer B. Jacob had understood from his energy broker that the contract with Retailer B would only be effective once he signed and returned the paperwork.
Retailer B agreed to transfer Jacob back to Retailer A, waiving the early termination fee.
Camellia's story: Meter read error leads to high bill
Customers receive $3,160 bill for 50 days energy use
Camellia has a disability and both she and her husband have been in and out of hospital. She was shocked to receive a $3,160 bill for a 50 day period, when her last winter bill was $600. They use a combustion fireplace for heating and cooking and the air conditioning is only used very sparingly. They don’t have a clothes dryer and there were no signs of a hot water leak.
She called her energy provider to dispute the high bill and was advised it would be investigated. She did not hear anything further about the matter but called EWON when she received a letter warning of disconnection.
EWON contacted Camellia’s energy company to place a hold on her account while the bill was investigated. The energy company said that her bills had been based on estimated readings and her high consumption was possibly due to an error in the previous meter read. A field officer was sent to perform a check read and a meter test which confirmed that previous meter reads had been incorrect and overstated.
Camellia’s bill was recalculated and her bill revised down to $350. She was very relieved with the outcome.
Nada's story: Power outage damages appliances
Power outage damages customer’s electrical appliances
Nada was at home watching a movie when a 30 second power outage occurred. She later contacted her electricity company seeking compensation of $7,700 for damage to her television, AV receiver and speakers. The electricity company advised that the outage was due to a cat entering a substation. As this event was beyond their reasonable control, they would not compensate her.
She then made a claim to her insurance company, but this was also declined as her policy did not cover loss or damage by power surge.
Nada called EWON and asked for a review of the claim decision and consideration of whether the refusal of the claim was reasonable or appropriate.
EWON reviewed the documents Nada provided to her energy company and her insurance company and then contacted her energy company for their record of the event.
EWON’s investigation found that the circumstances of the power outage were beyond their reasonable control. The company had met their requirements by having intruder resistant fences installed around the substation. On that basis, the refusal of her claim was not unreasonable.
Clementine's story: Single parent faces disconnection
Struggling single parent told to increase payments or face disconnection
Clementine is a single mother with three children and lives on $1,200 a fortnight in welfare payments, which leaves $260 a week to cover all her other expenses once the rent is paid. She received a phone call from her energy company advising that she would be disconnected for arrears of $5,151 if she did not increase her payment arrangement to $125 a week.
Clementine had a $75 per fortnight payment arrangement in place but could not afford to increase her payments. She sought EAPA* vouchers at a nearby community agency but they had run out. Clementine called EWON for help and was referred to another community agency for EAPA vouchers. EWON contacted her energy company and had a hold placed on her account. Clementine obtained a financial counsellor’s report that stated she was in significant financial hardship and could not afford to increase her payment arrangement.
Her retailer told EWON that Clementine’s household consumption was around $265 per fortnight, and an energy audit had not been able to determine why it was so high. She had previously been on the customer assistance program but was removed due to failure to maintain contact with the company. However, they acknowledged Clementine’s financial hardship and offered an incentive program where they would match her payments over the next two quarters.
Clementine and her retailer also agreed to a later review to increase payments to $120 a fortnight when her financial position improved. A community agency paid $400 directly on to the account to further reduce the arrears.
Clementine appreciated EWON’s assistance in resolving the immediate problem of impending disconnection. However, it was clear that there remained a longer term affordability issue for Clementine.
* Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA)
Iris' story: Misleading marketer signs up elderly customer
Elderly customer misled by false claims of door to door marketer
A door to door marketer came to Iris’ house and said that she would need to transfer her account to Retailer X as her existing retailer had closed down. Later Iris discovered this was not true and spoke to her friend Jenny about the experience.
Jenny contacted EWON for help in having Iris’ account transferred back to her preferred retailer. She explained that Iris is 91 years old and vulnerable.
EWON discussed the complaint with Retailer X, who acknowledged that Iris had been provided with incorrect and misleading information by the marketer. They agreed to retrospectively transfer Iris back to her previous supplier without charge.
Ajaya's story: Customer credit listed in error
Customer credit listed for account she never opened
Ajaya received a letter from a debt collector demanding payment for a $572 electricity debt with Retailer A at a unit she lived in two years ago. She called Retailer A, explaining that she had held a gas account with them but not an electricity account. She also sent her electricity bill from Retailer B to support this and did not hear from Retailer A again.
A year later, Ajaya discovered she had been credit listed.
When she called EWON, Ajaya was upset. She complained that there must be confusion with the billing address and said that she wanted the credit listing removed.
Through EWON’s investigation, it was discovered that Retailer A had not received the supporting documents Ajaya had sent to them. They acknowledged that the debt of $572 was incurred after Ajaya had moved out and they explained that they had created an account in her name at her previous address in error.
They removed the credit listing, sent Ajaya an apology letter and made a $500 customer service gesture for the inconvenience caused.
Serena's story: Credit listing discovered when loan is rejected
Failure to close an account in difficult times leads to credit default listing
Serena found out that she had been credit listed for an old electricity debt when she moved into a new property and applied for credit with a furniture company. Her application was declined due to a credit default listed by her previous electricity retailer. She contacted the electricity company and found the listing related to an outstanding bill of $300 for a period between 2006 and 2007.
Serena said that she did not live at the address at the time: she moved out in 2005 and in fact was in custody from late 2006 to early 2008. She presented documents to confirm this, but her electricity company advised her there was nothing they could do as her bills were over 12 months old.
Serena contacted EWON for help.
EWON contacted the energy company who said that because Serena had failed to close the account she was responsible for the debt. However, they acknowledged her difficult circumstances at the time were such that she would not have been aware of the arrears or the listing, so they agreed to remove the listing against her name.
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.
Alice's story: Customer with very high arrears faces disconnection
High arrears and ongoing consumption in excess of payments place Alice at risk of disconnection
Alice has been living in her current home for twenty years, with four children and one grandchild. Twelve months earlier a home Power savings Audit was conducted at Alice’s home to help identify ways to reduce her household’s consumption, but their average consumption was still $227 per fortnight.
Previously, Alice had a $100 per fortnight payment plan via Centrepay and she had been on the retailer’s customer assistance program twice. The company had offered an incentive of $1,690 towards her account if she kept up her payments, but she was unable to do so and defaulted on the payment plan.
Significant arrears had accumulated over eight years and Alice now owed $9,500 in total. The supplier issued a disconnection notice for $7,500 and said they wanted $4,000 upfront as well as a payment arrangement of $597 per fortnight to stop the disconnection.
Unable to meet these requirements, Alice went to her local neighbourhood centre who referred her to EWON and a financial counsellor. We contacted the retailer and asked them to put Alice’s account on hold while we investigated the complaint and referred Alice to a number of EAPA* agencies for assistance.
Alice was only able to obtain $240 in EAPA vouchers, which left her $3,760 short of the amount her electricity retailer required to stop disconnection, and she considered she could only afford to pay $110 per fortnight towards her bill. Considering the size of the arrears and Alice’s debt history, the retailer was unwilling to reduce their requirements for suspending disconnection.
Following our negotiations however, they agreed to accept Alice back on their hardship program with payment arrangement of $130/fortnight. The retailer also sent a field officer to Alice’s home to explain how to read the meter and monitor usage.
Alice agreed to make regular payments, work with her children to reduce consumption and report meter readings to her supplier fortnightly. She understood that if she was unable to meet any of these commitments in the future her power supply would be at risk again.
* Energy Account Payment Assistance
Darren's story: small business charged default extension rates
Small supermarket owners face $17,240 monthly bill on costly extension rates
A small supermarket changed hands and its store manager was trying to negotiate the terms of a new electricity contract when he became unwell and had to go on leave. The business owner was overseas and, in the meantime, the supplier moved the supermarket onto default extension rates on the grounds that no contract had been entered into.
Darren, the advocate for the business, called EWON for assistance. He said that the owners felt they weren’t given enough opportunity to sign a contract and that the supplier had refused to backdate the offered contract to when the business changed hands.
The owners were now facing a $17,240 bill for their first month of operation, whereas on the previous contract rates the bill would have been $9,995, and their next bill was due soon.
They had since applied to transfer to another retailer. EWON investigated what notification had been provided to the business regarding the contract and the application of default extension rates. We also looked at how relevant laws and regulations had been applied by the retailer and what financial detriment the retailer would incur by supplying the customer at the previous market rate.
Following negotiations, the retailer eventually agreed to apply the rates offered in the original contract to the entire supply period. This reduced the bill by over $13,000 and the business owners were very pleased with the outcome.
Carmelo's story: credit default is recorded against a disputed account
Carmelo challenges his credit default listing over a disputed electricity bill
When Carmelo received a final electricity bill for $1550 from his former retailer, he disputed it with the company. The amount was about double his usual bill and just before it was issued Carmelo had been advised by the network provider that they had found a fault with his meter and replaced it.
In good faith, Carmelo paid 50% of the amount owing on his account, which he considered represented his actual use, but the balance was sent to a debt collector before the disputed bill was resolved. Carmelo continued to dispute the bill with the retailer and the debt collector, maintaining that it reflected a faulty meter reading.
When his application for a credit card was declined, he then discovered he had been credit default listed for the $775 outstanding on the bill. Carmelo asked EWON to investigate the accuracy of the bill and to review the basis of the credit default listing.
Our investigation found that the retailer had attempted to find out from the distributor if a meter fault had in fact been detected and, if so, to obtain a revised reading to adjust Carmelo’s final bill. However, the network had been unwilling to provide the information because the site had transferred to another retailer.
While raising this issue with the network provider, EWON requested that the retailer consider removing the credit default listing on the grounds that there appeared to be sufficient doubt about the bill’s accuracy. The retailer withdrew the listing and in the meantime the network provided revised readings to the retailer. This updated meter data reduced Carmelo’s balance owing to just $63 once the prompt payment discount was applied, and the retailer offered to waive this amount.
Carmelo was satisfied with the outcome.
Lynette's story: 15 months of bills arrive at once for unknown accounts
Family shocked to receive bills amounting to $16,000 for disused land
Lynette, Arnold and Arnold’s father purchased two blocks of disused industrial land in late 2010. Four months later they were contacted by the previous owner’s electricity supplier and provided their details as requested to transfer over the account.
The blocks remained vacant and the new owners received no further correspondence from the supplier for 10 months. Then a bundle of 30 electricity bills arrived – one for each block for each of the 15 months that had passed since the property was transferred. Combined, the charges amounted to $17,405.
The three joint owners had not known until this time that there was an industrial supply contract in place and no one had explained the contract’s fee structure to them. Had they been advised by the energy supplier, or had a bill arrived earlier, they considered they would have disconnected the supply to the blocks.
Lynette felt that this billing delay was unreasonable, but the supplier maintained that the billing was correct and that they were liable for the balance owing. Lynette contacted EWON for help.
Our investigation found that some charges had been applied in error and we queried whether the retailer had observed the relevant regulations, in particular those concerning the retailer’s responsibility to determine the expected rate of consumption of a customer for the purpose of determining what category of customer they fall within and what rates should apply.
The owners were very relieved by the retailer’s decision to waive the full $17,405 in fees owing on the accounts.
Rowena's story: meter reader repeatedly misses appointment
Poor customer service causes Rowena to lose paid work days
Rowena was moving into a new apartment and called Retailer A to set up a gas and electricity account. Retailer A said they would need to get an electricity meter reading. As the meter was located behind locked doors, Rowena was advised she would have to be home to provide access to the reader. On four occasions Rowena took the day off work to let in the meter reader, but on each occasion no one showed up.
In the meantime, Rowena received a $400 electricity bill for six weeks’ usage from Retailer B, who supplied the previous occupant. Concerned that this bill was high and frustrated with Retailer A, Rowena came to EWON for help. She wanted Retailer A to acknowledge the inconvenience she had been caused by their poor customer service. She also wanted Retailer A to pay the $400 bill as compensation for the delay transferring her account and for the four days of pay she lost waiting for a meter reader.
We advised Rowena to establish an account with the incumbent retailer, Retailer B, so she could discuss the bill with them. She did this and, by providing proof of her move in date, was able to show she was not liable for the full amount billed, which resolved the issue of the high bill. She decided she no longer wanted to deal with Retailer A and said she wanted to cancel the transfer of her electricity account to Retailer A and to switch her gas account to be with Retailer B as well.
Retailer A denied Rowena’s compensation claim on the grounds that they do not compensate for lost wages. However, they agreed to waive her gas bill of $220. Rowena was pleased to receive this acknowledgement of the inconvenience she was caused and to have both her gas and electricity accounts established with her preferred provider.
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.
Robert's story: network provider declines compensation claim
Power surge damages Robert’s home computing equipment
Following an electricity supply interruption, Robert’s computer, modem and printer were damaged. Robert was able to fix the printer himself and his internet provider replaced his modem, but his computer repairs cost him $176. As an aged pensioner with limited financial means, he was seeking compensation for this expense from the electricity distributor.
Robert’s claim for compensation was denied by the distributor on the grounds that the standard customer contract does not guarantee uninterrupted supply. Dissatisfied with this response and unconvinced that he could be held to a contract he had never signed, Robert came to EWON for assistance.
We explained to Robert that a deemed contract exists between the distributor and the customer supplied by that operator and that, under this contract, the distributor is required to meet certain performance and reliability standards. We advised that EWON would review his compensation claim with reference to these standards and as well as information provided by him and the distributor.
Our investigation showed that this was the only supply interruption in Robert’s area recorded that year, which indicated Robert’s network provider had satisfied its contracted service reliability requirement. Additionally, it appeared that the outage had resulted from an automated network protection operation. Because this kind of event is a normal system function and the customer contract limits the provider’s liability for damage and losses resulting from these functions, the network’s denial of Robert’s claim seemed reasonable.
We advised Robert that it is the customer’s responsibility to ensure equipment is protected from supply interruptions and fluctuations. Robert was disappointed that his claim was not awarded, but accepted EWON’s investigation report findings.
Tony's story: retailer applies an incorrect tariff and no rebate
One billing problem is fixed only to create another for public housing tenant Tony
When Tony moved into his one-bedroom public housing apartment, he agreed to enter into a market electricity contract. However, he became concerned when his bills showed that the usage was being charged at higher rates than he had been quoted, the daily supply charge was more expensive and no discount was being applied. He already had spent a lot of his pension money on mobile phone credit trying to resolve the matter with his retailer and when they repeatedly failed to respond to his requests for contact, Tony called EWON for assistance.
We spoke with Tony’s electricity supplier who discovered that Tony had been billed on commercial rates rather than lower residential rates. They reissued his bills at the correct tariff and explained that a 13% discount would apply if Tony paid the full amount on time. They also noted that Tony’s history of small payments suggested he might be experiencing financial difficulty and said they would offer Tony the option of participating in the company’s hardship program.
But Tony was still concerned about the accuracy of his bills as the new bills did not apply the Low Income Household Rebate, which had been correctly applied to the incorrect bills previously issued. EWON investigated the billing and found that the correct residential tariff had been applied. However, an administrative problem caused by differing address details held by the electricity distributor and Centrelink for the housing complex where Tony lived was preventing the rebate from being applied to his account.
We explained to the retailer that Tony felt it was unfair he should be liable for the increased rates that had by now come into effect considering that the matter had taken so long to resolve with his retailer, and that this delay had affected his ability to seek a more competitive energy offer. While the retailer reviewed Tony’s complaint, EWON spoke with various agencies and we were eventually able to resolve the confusion over Tony’s correct address so that the retailer could validate the rebate and backdate payment. The retailer also offered a customer service gesture of $150, which covered more than the difference in rates that had been charged to Tony’s account.
Tony was pleased with the outcome and accepted the company’s offer, however, he indicated that he might switch to another provider. We referred him to the independent energy comparator website* for help identifying a suitable offer for his situation. We also referred him to EAPA** agencies for assistance with paying his bill.
* Now Energy Made Easy, www.energymadeeasy.gov.au
** Energy Accounts Payment Assistance