Faulty gas meter records ten times Tim and Margaretâ€™s expected consumption
Tim established a direct debit with his gas retailer and for the next two years didn’t take much notice of his bills until he received a gas bill for $12,995, which was much higher than expected. Tim found an old bill for $239 which he considered to be a normal amount.
Acting as Tim’s advocate, his wife Margaret called the retailer, who told her that the bills Tim had been paying for eighteen months had been estimated and, as it turned out, significantly underestimated. The retailer said they would organise a special meter reading to establish the exact amount owing. However, Tim and Margaret did not hear any more from the retailer until they received a disconnection notice for the full amount.
Margaret called EWON seeking a review of the accuracy of the backbill and whether it complied with the rules for backbilling, and to find out why their bills had been estimated. We explained to Margaret that bills can only be backbilled for a nine month period, but advised that this limitation would not apply if the bills had been estimated because of an ongoing access issue, which is the customer’s responsibility. The advocate did not consider there were any access problems as their dog is kept in the backyard, not the front where the gas meter is located.
We asked the retailer to provide account information so we could investigate the billing accuracy. The retailer agreed the consumption level was high for a two person household and suggested the decimal place in the consumption reading may have been in the wrong place, causing the consumption data to be reported at 10 times the correct amount. However, the check read provided by the distributor and the reading taken by Margaret showed that the reading was consistent with the meter. The billing therefore appeared accurate, and the retailer offered Margaret a 6 month payment plan to cover arrears.
In the meantime, Tim and Margaret received another bill, this time for $1,955 for the previous three months. Margaret considered this was excessive, particularly given Tim had spent 5 weeks of that time in hospital. We queried whether she thought there might be a gas leak. She didn’t think so, but commented that they could smell a gas leak from her neighbour’s house. We noted the possibility of a leak and the retailer recommended Margaret and her neighbour call the distributor’s emergency hotline to check for leaks.
The distributor visited the site to look at the meter and suspected that it had a defective dial, which could have caused the high jumps. They replaced the meter and checked readings over the following weeks to ensure it was operating correctly and to establish normal consumption levels. They then provided adjusted usage for the disputed period to the retailer, who reversed the $12,995 owing and rebilled Tim and Margaret for just $313. The retailer also waived a $12 late payment fee. The advocate was very pleased with the outcome and thanked EWON for our time sorting out the issue.
Category: Investigation. Outcome: Negotiated resolution. Issues: Metering, high bill, backbilling.
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.
Ray's story: unusually high gas bill
Retailer incorrectly debits customer for a $2076 disputed bill
His quarterly gas bills were usually around $100, so when Ray received a bill of $2076 he called his retailer immediately. As the bill was unusually high, the retailer scheduled a meter inspection.
The retailer could not specify a time for the inspection and as the meter was located inside his apartment, Ray’s wife took a day off work. When the meter reader hadn’t arrived by 4pm she called the retailer. While they assured her the meter reader would attend, no-one came to read the meter.
Ray complained to senior staff in the company about what happened. They apologised and offered to reschedule the inspection. A few days later, on a Friday, the retailer debited $2076 from Ray’s account. This left his account overdrawn and his family without money for the weekend. On Monday, Ray called the retailer who said they would refund the money the next day.
Ray waited five days but when he didn’t receive a refund he called EWON for help.
We contacted the retailer who organised Ray’s refund. They acknowledged their poor service and the inconvenience to Ray and his family, and offered him a goodwill gesture of $200.
The next day Ray confirmed he had received the refund and he was satisfied with the retailer’s response.
He said he would wait for the outcome of the retailer’s investigation of his disputed high bill, and contact EWON again if he was not satisfied.
Paul's story: unusually high gas bill
Customer provides evidence but retailer fails to investigate problem
Paul was surprised to receive a quarterly gas bill for $3315 as his bills were usually around $230. For a year Paul tried to sort out his high bill complaint with the retailer however when he received a disconnection notice, he called EWON for help.
Paul said he lives in a separately metered duplex and around eight years ago his neighbour’s gas meter was changed. Paul believed that at some point the retailer started incorrectly billing him for his neighbour’s meter, as the DPI* and reading on his high bill didn’t match his meter.
Each time Paul called the retailer to alert them to the error, he was referred to a different department. Paul said no-one he spoke to could fix the problem or organise for his meter to be checked though he requested this. Paul had even written to the retailer’s General Manager and provided photographs of the meter, but he had received no response. While he tried to sort out the problem, Paul paid what he thought was reasonable towards his account.
EWON contacted the retailer who said that the meter needed to be physically checked and they would organise for the distributor to do this. The distributor’s check confirmed that Paul’s account had been incorrectly attached to his neighbour’s meter. Given their error, the retailer adjusted Paul’s billing history, waived part of his bill as a goodwill gesture and sent him a letter of apology.
We highlighted to the retailer that Paul’s neighbour would now be faced with an unexpected high bill as he had been underpaying for his gas consumption for around 15 months. The retailer assured EWON that they would personally contact Paul’s neighbour to explain about the backbill and offer him a payment plan.
*Delivery Point Identifier
Georgia's story: delayed meter read and billing
Customer can’t get meter read to finalise her account
Georgia received a high gas bill so she contacted her retailer and they agreed to organise a meter read and put a hold on her account.
When confirming the location of the meter, the retailer insisted that the meter was located inside Georgia’s unit and she would need to be at home for the reading to happen. She told the retailer she didn't think the meter was located inside her apartment, but in order to sort out the high bill, she agreed to be at home for the meter reader.
The meter reader failed to attend the agreed appointment so Georgia organised another time with the retailer. The meter reader failed to arrive for the second meter reading.
Georgia had decided to move and contacted the retailer to arrange a final reading. She waited at the unit until midnight on the designated date, but again the meter reader failed to arrive. Frustrated, Georgia arranged for keys to the apartment to be left with the building manager so the meter reader could access the meter the next business day.
Several weeks passed and Georgia hadn't received a final bill, so she contacted EWON for help. Georgia said the retailer hadn't sent a bill, but she kept receiving phone calls and SMS messages from them regarding payment of her account, which had now exceeded $900.
EWON's investigation prompted the retailer to check Georgia's account. They consequently found that the distributor had not informed them that Georgia's hot water meter was in fact read remotely by a meter data logger, so the meter reader did not need to have access to her unit. The meter data logger had become misaligned, so estimated reads had been recorded.
Once this was realigned, and an actual meter read was obtained, the retailer was able to bill her on her actual usage. This was much lower than the estimates had been.
The retailer recognised the considerable inconvenience this had caused Georgia and as a goodwill gesture they offered to waive a significant part of her charges. The combination of the rebilling and the waived charges reduced Georgia's final account from $2,030 to $700. Georgia was satisfied with the retailer's response and was relieved that the matter was sorted.
Mei's story: multiple bill error
Error results in customer receiving seven bills at once
Mei lives in an apartment and uses gas for her hot water and cooking. During the first year, her gas bills were around $100 per quarter. When she received a bill for $1,900, she thought something was wrong so she called her retailer who promised to look into it.
Mei called the retailer again every month for the next 9 months, to check the progress of their investigation. She then received seven bills all at once for over $1,500 with a letter stating she had been previously undercharged.
Mei disputed the accuracy of the bills, however the retailer maintained the bills were reasonable. Mei was not satisfied with the retailer's response and asked EWON to check the accuracy of the bills.
EWON contacted the retailer who explained that Mei’s hot water bill is based on the readings from the hot water meter inside her apartment, which are transmitted to the network distributor via a meter data logger. The meter data logger had come out of alignment, which caused Mei's bills to be estimated, but in fact the estimates were much lower than what her actual usage had been.
After the error was fixed, the retailer sent Mei seven adjusted bills based on her actual usage. The retailer acknowledged Mei's confusion and that they could have explained the billing adjustments better to her. Given this, the retailer offered Mei an extension of time to pay, a $50 goodwill gesture and to waive part of the charges which would leave Mei with a balance of $893.
We explained the offer to Mei, who was satisfied with the retailer's response.
Emily's story: meter misread
Meter misread leads to significant billing error
Emily lives alone in an apartment with a common hot water system. About two years ago, she began to receive abnormally high gas bills. She contacted her retailer because she thought something was wrong. The retailer said they would send someone to check the meter, but Emily had to follow up with them a number of times before a technician finally came to check it.
The results of the test showed there was no fault with the meter. Emily continued to receive very high bills and then she began to receive disconnection notices for different amounts.
After a year of trying to resolve her high bill problem with the retailer by phone, Emily put her complaint in writing. When they failed to respond again, Emily lost faith in the retailer’s ability to resolve the problem and she contacted EWON for help.
Emily explained she had sold her apartment and was due to move out shortly, so she needed the matter sorted quickly. She had recently received a letter of demand for $32,458 from the retailer and she was concerned that her credit rating would be affected.
EWON’s investigation found that the hot water readings had been incorrectly transposed onto the meter reading database, with one extra digit being recorded. This meant Emily had been billed for gas use equivalent to around 5 million litres of hot water. The retailer acknowledged the significant error and amended the billing, which reduced the balance on Emily’s account from $32,661 to $520. The retailer confirmed that Emily had not been credit default listed and as a goodwill gesture, they waived the remaining $520 on her account.
Ciro's story: disconnected after transfer delay
Delayed transfer causes new tenant to be disconnected
Ciro established a gas account with Retailer A and paid the first quarterly bill. The next quarter he received a bill for $170 from Retailer B. He called Retailer A and was advised to ignore the bill and contact Retailer B to request a transfer back to Retailer A. Ciro did this and then went overseas for a month. When he returned home he found his gas had been disconnected.
He called EWON for help. EWON’s investigation found that Retailer B had the billing rights to Ciro’s address and that the account was in the name of the previous tenant, who had applied to switch from Retailer A to Retailer B. The transfer had then been delayed and the previous tenant didn’t contact Retailer B to cancel the transfer before he moved out. The transfer went ahead but not until after Ciro had moved in. In light of this, it appeared that Ciro had been billed correctly by Retailer B.
Ciro’s gas was reconnected and Retailer B offered a $60 customer service gesture due to the disconnection of his supply. Ciro was satisfied with the outcome and decided to establish an account with Retailer B.
Libby's story: Couple receives $3,500 gas bill shock
Gas bill for $3,500 shocks couple who only use gas for hot water
Libby and her partner Alex had been living in their one bedroom apartment for 9 months when they received their first gas bill. They only use gas for their hot water and they were shocked to find they owed $3,500.
Alex contacted the gas supplier several times to discuss the account. The gas company said they would put the account on hold while they investigated the case, but Alex and Libby continued to receive reminder notices.
Eventually Alex spoke with someone at the company who said they could see there was a calculation error. Shortly after this, Alex and Libby received a letter stating that the supplier had identified a problem and recalculated the bills accordingly, but the new bills still showed an amount of $3,500.
On Alex’s request, EWON contacted the gas supplier to review the billing. We found that the property had a common hot water service and that the gas supplier was applying an incorrect conversion factor to calculate consumption. The company agreed to bring the charges into line with EWON’s calculation for actual usage of $751. They offered an extension for time to pay to a relieved Libby and Alex.
Beverly's story: administrative error leads customer to fear credit listing
Gas retailer’s system testing error leads to debt collection action
Beverly’s husband received a final notice from a debt collection agency demanding payment of $344 for an unpaid gas account. The letter advised that failure to pay might result in legal proceedings or credit listing. Beverly called the collection agency, who told her the file had been withdrawn by her gas supplier and that she didn’t need to make the payment. She asked to have this put in writing as she was worried about being credit listed, but the agency referred her to the gas retailer.
Her gas supplier said there was no record of why the debt referral had occurred and that she should write to the customer service department to request confirmation in writing that she wasn’t liable for the $344 payment. Beverly did as advised and came to EWON for help when she heard nothing back from the supplier. We referred her back to the supplier at a higher level, but she returned when she still did not receive a response to her request.
From our investigation it emerged that during a system testing activity a small number of accounts were modified in the live system in error, which resulted in the referral to the debt collector. The retailer apologised and assured Beverly that there was no existing debt and that her husband would not be credit listed. They also applied a $50 customer service gesture to Beverly’s husband’s account.
Marlene's Story: Tenant moves out but doesn't advise gas and electricity supplier
Marlene moved out of her rented apartment in August, but didn’t advise her gas and electricity supplier. In November she received a $485 energy bill for usage at those premises from June up until November.
She contacted the supplier to say she’d moved out in August and the supplier received verbal confirmation of this from the landlord. However, the new tenants denied responsibility for the bill on the grounds that their rent, which they paid directly to the landlord, included bills.
Marlene came to EWON for assistance as she considered that she was not responsible for any part of the bill after the date she moved out. We explained to Marlene that a customer may be held responsible for all charges up until the provider becomes aware that the customer is no longer residing at the premises or another customer opens an account for the same premises.
We suggested Marlene present some documentation to prove her move-out date to her supplier, which she did. The supplier maintained that Marlene was responsible for the bill, but made an offer to reduce her account by $219 as a customer service gesture, which she accepted.