Personal information about our customers has been changed to protect their privacy.
Cindy's story: high estimated bill received with no explanation
Cindy regularly paid her gas bills, which were always around $500, then received a bill for $3,810 with no explanation. She contacted the retailer and received three different explanations.
She was first told it was because of previous estimations, then it was because the meter reader was unable to gain access, and finally that it was because the meter was faulty and had to be replaced. This did not make sense to her as there was access to the meter and the meter had been replaced two years before. She requested a better explanation of the high bill and received an account reconciliation. However, there were so many reversals and reissues that she was unable to understand it. She then received warnings of collection action, despite still disputing the bill. At this point she approached EWON.
An EWON investigation established that the distributor had been providing estimated reads for the removed meter and that the retailer then backbilled once an actual read had occurred. The retailer initially offered a customer service gesture of $2,000 on arrears of $4,688 and 12 months to pay the balance. EWON requested details of how much of these arrears were beyond the nine months period allowed under the rules. Rather than do a full review of the billing, the retailer offered to waive $4,240, which reduced the customers arrears to $448. The customer accepted the retailer’s offer.
Added September 2018
Savita's story: backbill based on estimated reads
Retailers should not issue backbills on an estimated read. This is particularly so when the estimated read is significantly higher than is reasonable.
Savita said that there was a period of about two years during which she received no gas bills.
Instead she was sent letters by her retailer apologising for the delay. She then received several delayed bills totalling $13,800. She felt this was not a reasonable amount for two people in a residential building. The customer said she questioned the retailer and it offered to read the meter again. There were two special meter reads and again the customer received estimated reads. The complaint was referred to the retailer at a higher level.
The customer returned to EWON because the retailer failed to contact her. The investigation established that the gas meter had been exchanged in November 2017. EWON requested the retailer to review the billing based upon the pro-rata consumption from the new meter. The distributor then amended the consumption data from June 2016. This reduced the arrears for this period to $178. The previous billing had been based on grossly overestimated readings. The nine-month backbilling rule did not apply as there were meter access issues. The customer was advised of her meter access obligations and a self-read arrangement was established.
Added September 2018
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
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.
Mark & Sian's story: High consumption goes unnoticed due to estimated reads
High consumption goes unnoticed due to estimated reads
Sian and Mark each rent one floor of a house and share the gas bill as the premises are not separately metered. Mark, who moved in before Sian, hadn't established a gas account in his own name when the previous account holder moved out. The meter was in the garage, which the provider considered inaccessible, so Mark had been receiving customer read cards. Mark didn’t provide reads for some time, so bills were estimated at around $100 for several quarters.
When Sian and Mark received a bill for $5612, they disputed this with the supplier. At this point, Mark opened an account in his name and the supplier arranged a special meter read, which confirmed the consumption had been billed correctly. A gas leak on Sian’s floor had been reported to the landlord and fixed just prior to Sian moving in, but it was unclear how long the problem had existed.
Investigation revealed that the disputed bill had arisen from an incorrect under-reading eventually provided by Mark, combined with no actual read being taken for almost 3 years.
The previous customer’s account had been closed based on an estimated reading as they did not provide access or a customer read, and Mark had not provided a move-in read to the supplier. Mark explained that the meter was in fact accessible as the garage was never locked, but the supplier hadn’t been advised of this prior to the billing dispute. As a result, the high consumption had gone unnoticed.
We told Mark that it was his responsibility to open an account when he moved in. It was also his responsibility to ensure access to the meter or to provide regular and accurate customer readings. The supplier offered to waive half the arrears, but Mark and Sian believed they had a strong case to make against the landlord through the Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) and so did not accept the offer.
The supplier agreed to extend the hold on Mark’s account until the CTTT hearing was concluded and decided to keep the offer open to Mark should the hearing not go in his favour.