Personal information about our customers has been changed to protect their privacy.
Kara's story: Non-payment leads to water restriction
Water restriction imposed when customer fails to meet payment plan
Kara called EWON when her water supply was restricted. She owed her water provider $1,760 and had received restriction warning notices but was unable to pay her bills as she had recently lost her business, had no income, and was in serious financial difficulty.
She had previously agreed to pay her water provider $100 per fortnight but had not been able to keep to this arrangement and instead had been paying around $50 a fortnight. EWON called Kara’s water provider to discuss reconnecting her supply and was advised that they required an upfront payment of $815 to cover her missed payments and consumption over the past 6 months.
Kara could only afford to pay $200 and so EWON referred her to the Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) available through the community agencies in her area. Her water provider liaised with the community agency to authorise additional PAS above the usual limit, given Kara’s extreme circumstances. She obtained $700 in PAS vouchers and was referred to Centrelink to discuss her financial situation.
Kara agreed to commit to a $100 a month payment plan with all future bills payable when due and was relieved to have her water restriction lifted that day.
Shirl's story: pensioner with health issues faces dual fuel disconnection
Shirl faces impending electricity and gas disconnection
When an officer arrived to disconnect her electricity supply for non-payment, Shirl explained she operates a nebuliser to manage her lung disease and the officer left without completing the disconnection. Her dual fuel account was overdue and she wanted to avoid the gas and electricity being disconnected, so she contacted EWON for help.
Shirl is on a disability pension and her partner had just become employed again. She explained that she couldn’t pay the full $600 she believed was owing on the account upfront, but that she could make a $200 payment right away and they could then manage to pay $100 per fortnight to bring down the arrears.
When we spoke with the retailer, they advised that there was $1200 owing on the electricity account and $305 on the gas account. They agreed to put a hold on the accounts and to accept the payment plan Shirl considered was manageable. They confirmed that Shirl was already receiving the Low Income Household Rebate and agreed to send her an application form for the medical energy rebate, which her circumstances suggested she might also be eligible to receive.
We advised Shirl that she could apply to a community agency for EAPA* vouchers to help reduce her arrears and we provided her with referrals to EAPA agents in her area. Shirl said she would take the medical rebate form to her doctor to complete it.
* Energy Account Payment Assistance
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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
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