Case study one: Estimated bills for destroyed property 

Extreme weather event: December 2019 bushfire 
Continued impact: Two years later

A customer lost his home in a bushfire in December 2019 and his electricity meter was destroyed. He rebuilt the property and had a new meter installed in July 2022. In the meantime, he received estimated bills for the period December 2019 to July 2022. He disputed the bills as there was no working meter at the property during that time and the property was not yet inhabitable. The customer was not disputing actual bills issued since the new meter was installed in July 2022, but repeatedly disputed usage prior to July 2022 without resolution. He contacted EWON in late December 2022, and agreed for EWON to refer the complaint to a specialist team at the retailer. The customer returned as the complaint was still not resolved, and EWON investigated the billing.

EWON’s review found that the customer’s National Metering Identifier (NMI) was listed as inactive in the national electricity database for most of the disputed period, in line with the customer’s advice that he did not finish rebuilding until mid-2022. The retailer reversed all charges for the period December 2019 and July 2022, a total of $1,500. It also applied a customer service credit of $500 to his account. The balance of the account was reduced to $730, which was made up of recent, undisputed charges since the new meter was installed. The retailer and customer agreed to discuss a payment arrangement for the balance, including referral to the retailer’s affordability program if required. EWON also provided the customer with information about available support such as Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA).

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Case study two: Flood damaged meter leads to estimated bills

Extreme weather event: March 2022 flood
Continued impact: A year and a half later

A customer’s residence was impacted by floods in March 2022 and his electricity meters went under water. He did not know the meters had stopped working properly until a year later when he realised his electricity bills had been estimated for the past year. The household had changed from five people to one person from April 2022 onwards. He considered that the estimated bills were high as they were based on the same period the year when more people were in the property. He decided to try and change retailers but was told that a meter fault made this impossible. He contacted EWON and agreed for EWON to refer the complaint to a specialist team at the retailer. The customer returned in June 2023 as the complaint was still not resolved. The retailer had advised him that it would replace his faulty meter, but then had not maintained contact with him. He had also received another estimated bill and a disconnection warning without any further updates from the retailer.

EWON investigated the meter replacement delay. The retailer advised that it had received multiple network notifications that the customer’s meter was faulty from June 2022 onwards. The retailer had been attempting to arrange a meter replacement, but the service orders kept being unsuccessful due to technicians having difficulty locating the address. EWON helped the retailer resolve a problem with the way the customer’s address was recorded in the national electricity database (unrelated to the floods) and the meter was replaced on 25 July 2023.

With this step completed, the customer advised he was happy to allow the retailer an opportunity to review the disputed estimated billing for the period March 2022 to July 2023. The retailer advised that it would monitor his actual usage on the new meter for at least a month to help provide a fair and reasonable usage comparison. The customer confirmed he was not currently experiencing financial difficulty and had paid the balance owing on the account in good faith following the successful meter exchange. EWON advised the customer to return to EWON if he was not satisfied with the retailer’s handling of the billing review or he experienced any financial difficulties.

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Case study three: Small business disconnected during flood repairs

Extreme weather event: February 2022 flood
Continued impact: A year and a half later

A customer’s business was affected by floods in February 2022 and the property required extensive repairs before he could begin trading again. The electricity switchboard was replaced in December 2022, and a new meter installed in March 2023. He received electricity bills from his retailer that included usage for the period February 2022 to March 2023. The bills were about $900 per quarter, and some of them indicated they were based on actual reads. He considered this could not be possible as there was no power in the area in February 2022 and March 2022, and after that the switchboard and meter was non-operable until they were replaced. He was still in financial difficulties trying to recover from the damage to his business and was having difficulty affording the higher than expected bills. He contacted his retailer repeatedly to dispute the billing and considered it advised it would investigate his concerns. However, his electricity was then disconnected for non-payment on 23 August 2023. The retailer advised it would not reconnect the electricity supply unless he paid the full outstanding balance of almost $14,800. He advised he could afford to pay $2,500 upfront, but the retailer declined to reconnect the supply.

He contacted EWON for assistance. EWON discussed the situation with the retailer and it agreed to reconnect the electricity. The retailer agreed that it was not reasonable for the customer to be charged estimated usage and service charges for the period February 2022 to March 2023 given that the customer’s business was not operating and there was no power being used until the switchboard and meter were replaced. The retailer therefore waived all charges for the period February 2022 to March 2023, a total of over $8,000. The remaining balance of $6,800 was from undisputed charges that had accumulated prior to February 2022. The balance reduced further to $4,300 after the customer made a payment of $2,500.

The customer opted to transfer to another retailer and his account was closed. Although retailers are not obligated to offer payment arrangements or affordability assistance on closed business accounts, the retailer agreed that the customer could contact it to discuss an affordable payment plan for the remaining undisputed balance of $4,300.

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Case study four: Payment reminders and complaint fatigue

Extreme weather event: February 2022 flood
Continued impact: Almost a year later

A customer had to be rescued from her home by helicopter during a flood in February 2022. Her home was rendered unliveable and it was months before it was safe to access her property. During this time, she continued to receive electricity bills from her retailer, as well as reminders to pay the bills. She advised her retailer of her circumstances over the phone at least five times, having to describe the traumatic event repeatedly. Each time her retailer would acknowledge her circumstances, only for her to receive further payment reminders. She found it exhausting as she was a single mother, and the energy billing was just one of many issues stemming from the floods that she had to deal with.

She was eventually able put a caravan in the property’s front yard in September 2022 so she could live in it while cleaning the house to be habitable again. She was not disputing billing from this point onwards as she acknowledged that she was using electricity in the caravan, but continued to dispute the bills from when she was not using any energy. She contacted EWON in December 2022 as her retailer had still not resolved the complaint.

The retailer advised EWON that it received a meter fault notification for the customer’s meter and replaced it on 14 October 2022. All meter reads had been actual since the meter replacement. The retailer confirmed it had already waived a bill for the period November 2021 to February 2022 for $360 in April 2022. It agreed to also waive all charges from February 2022 to November 2022, a total of $1,200. This reduced the customer’s balance to zero. The customer was satisfied with the outcome and understood that her bills moving forward would be based on actual reads of the new meter. EWON also provided the customer with information about available support.

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Case study five: Post-bushfire hazard reduction by network

Extreme weather event: November 2019 bushfire
Continued impact: Over two years later

A customer advised that her property was impacted by bushfires in November 2019. Her partner had experienced significant health problems since the fires, so she was responsible for dealing with issues. In the years following the bushfires, the network conducted ongoing bushfire hazard reduction checks in the area. The network identified a potential hazard in an area of the customer’s property over which it had an easement. Fifteen trees, some partially burnt and some fully burnt, needed to be removed due to proximity to power lines and fire risk. They agreed for the network to remove the damaged trees and grind down the resulting stumps. However, after the damaged trees were removed in early 2020, the stumps remained. The customer was communicating with the network for updates and then received an email stating that the network had never agreed to grind down the stumps. The customer contacted EWON in April 2023 as she was unhappy about the conflicting information and the potential financial impact of having to pay to remove or grind the stumps privately.

The network considered there had been a miscommunication and it had not agreed to remove the stumps. The network provided copies of correspondence that supported its advice that it had told the customer that it would cut the trees as close to the ground as possible, but not that it would grind the stumps. However, to resolve the complaint, the provider arranged for the stumps to be ground down at its cost. The customer was satisfied with the outcome.

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Case study six: Solar panels and high bills after bushfires

Extreme weather event: November 2019 bushfire
Continued impact: Four years later

A customer lost her home during a bushfire in November 2019. She finished rebuilding her home in 2023, which included solar panels on the roof. She then received electricity bills that seemed high, so she got an electrician to come out and check the solar installation. The electrician told her that the solar installation was non-compliant and defective.

The customer contacted EWON in October 2023 for advice. The solar company was not an EWON member, so EWON referred her to NSW Fair Trading for assistance with her complaint about the defective solar installation. EWON explained that we could assist her if she wanted an investigation of the billing or was having affordability difficulties with the bills. The customer advised she did not currently have any complaint about her electricity retailer’s handling of the issue. She advised that she would speak to NSW Fair Trading about the defective solar installation and return to EWON for further advice and assistance if required.

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Case study seven: Customer traumatised by retelling story

Extreme weather event: October 2019 bushfire
Continued impact: Over six months later

A customer’s property was destroyed by a bushfire in October 2019. The bushfire was an extremely traumatic experience as there were periods where she was trapped by fire and fearing for her life. She also lost a friend in the bushfire.

Before the bushfires, she had already been dealing with a billing dispute with her electricity retailer. The electricity meter was faulty and she was receiving estimated bills while waiting for a meter replacement. Due to the bushfire, she lost all her records of her contact with the retailer to try and resolve the issue.

The customer contacted EWON in July 2020 as she had become extremely frustrated with the retailer’s customer service and handling of her complaint. The retailer had repeatedly contacted her trying to arrange a meter replacement, even though she kept explaining that the house was destroyed in a bushfire and she no longer needed a meter replacement as she was living with a relative and would not be rebuilding. She later sold the land and closed her electricity account. She thought her billing dispute was resolved at that point, but then kept getting collections contact from the retailer seeking payment of $130 in estimated charges from just prior to the bushfire. The collections contact continued even after she explained numerous times about her previous billing dispute and the traumatic bushfire. The customer advised EWON that she was elderly and feeling additional stress from being in lockdown due to COVID-19. She advised EWON that she did not think the retailer knew how to properly handle issues for people who were affected by the bushfires.

EWON discussed the matter with the retailer and the retailer waived the disputed charges of $130. The customer advised that this resolved her complaint.

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