WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A COMPLAINT

1Know the complaint
  • Take your time
  • Clarify the issues
  • Consider a resolution
 
2Read our website and FAQs  
3Try to resolve  
4Seek Further Assistance  

Case studies

case studyIncorrect application of solar (PV) readings

Scenario:

Mr F complained to his supplier that he had not received an electricity bill, and then received a text message advising him that $1,526 was outstanding. This was higher than expected and Mr F was concerned that he had not received the bill. He had previously been billed regularly. Solar panels had been installed 12 months earlier.

Complaint:

Mr F contacted the supplier but was unable to resolve the issue. Mr F then contacted us for help.

Outcome:

Our investigation revealed that the distributor had identified an error and cancelled the bills but had not re-issued them before the text was sent. The problem was that that the meter readings had been reversed, with the solar export billed as consumption and the consumption credited as solar export.

 

 Testing revealed that the meter was operating within allowable tolerances. The issue was the incorrect application of the readings when billing the customer. The supplier corrected and re-issued the bill and apologised to Mr F for the inconvenience caused. As a result, Mr F’s account was in credit several hundred dollars. Upon resolution of the case, Mr F called us to thank us for our assistance.

case studyNo access to meter, customer back-billed $42,000

Scenario:

Mr W’s organisation received an electricity bill of almost $42,000 dating back to January 2006, with the supplier advising that access had not been granted to the meter to allow actual readings to be taken. However, Mr W said this was incorrect as he had previously provided access instructions and these had not changed.

Complaint:

Mr W did not believe the supplier had used their best endeavours to gain access to the electricity meter. He sought to have the bill reduced to a 12-month period, which he felt was consistent with the supplier’s regulatory requirements.

Outcome:

Our investigation confirmed that a meter reading had not been obtained between January 2006 and July 2012. The supplier advised that they had not received any access instructions from the customer. The distributor noted the instructions on their records only identified the location of the meter, not how to access it.

 

 The distributor also stated that they had attended the site quarterly since 2005, but had been unable to take readings because of the location of the meter. On each occasion, a ‘no access’ card was left, asking for access to be granted. They took this action as fulfilment of the distributor’s ‘best endeavours’ requirement. However, the retailer had not satisfied their ‘best endeavours’ requirements because they had not requested a special meter read or advised the customer of his obligations to provide access.

 

As a result, the retailer reduced the bill to $24,000 and a payment extension was applied to allow for payments in agreed instalments. We understand the distributor met with the Building Manager on site and arrangements are now in place for meter access.

case studyHigh bill due to tariff change

Scenario:

After receiving his electricity bill for the period January to April 2013, Mr M realised that it contained incorrect meter readings for peak consumption and solar export.

Complaint:

Mr M contacted the supplier, seeking to have the incorrect readings replaced and the overcharged and undercharged amounts corrected.

Outcome:

Our investigation revealed that the supplier had used incorrect meter readings to produce the bill issued in April 2013. The supplier corrected the error and issued an amended account with a credit for the 295 units overcharged on peak consumption and the 295 undercharged solar export units. The supplier apologised for the inconvenience caused by the error and as a gesture of goodwill reversed the special meter read fee ($27.50), applied a credit of $330 and extended the due date for payment of the balance by three months.

case studyFeed-in tariff eligibility

Scenario:

When purchasing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, Ms A entered into a three-year market contract that included a 60 cent per unit solar Feed-in Tariff rebate. Upon receiving her first electricity bill under the new arrangement, she noticed that it included a solar FiT of just 16 cents per unit.

Complaint:

Ms A contacted the supplier and was advised that she was no longer eligible for the 60 cent per unit rebate because the company which installed the solar system had gone out of business. She was further told that this provision was outlined in the terms and conditions of the market contract that she had entered into.

Outcome:

Our investigation revealed that while this provision was included in the terms and conditions of the market contract, it had not been specifically referred to at the ‘point of sale’, which was considered to be the time of the voice recording of the agreement.

 

The supplier apologised and agreed that this condition was material and should have specifically been mentioned at the time of the sale. As a result, it agreed to continue payment of the 60 cent per unit FiT for the remainder of the contract term.

case studyContract issues

Scenario:

Mr N purchased a long-standing restaurant and opened a new electricity account with a different supplier. He then received a bill for more than $20,000 dating back almost two years before he bought the business. It appears his supplier believed Mr N was responsible for the debt on the basis that the business had been purchased on a ‘walk in, walk out’ basis.

Complaint:

Mr N was dissatisfied with the information provided by the supplier and asked us to investigate.

Outcome:

As a result of our investigation, the distributor visited the site and confirmed that the NMI, meter number and supply address had transferred from one supplier to another on 13 March 2013. It appears that an incorrect NMI was transferred and as a result the debt continued to accumulate with the new supplier. We reviewed the ‘Agreement for the Sale and Purchase of the Business’ document provided by Mr N and formed the view that Mr N was not liable for the debt. As a result the supplier waived over $17,300 worth of debt and confirmed Mr N was only liable for energy consumed from the time he purchased the business. The supplier also offered Mr N an extension of time to pay.

case studyDefault listing

Scenario:

Mr K requested the finalisation of his business and residential electricity accounts and arranged a six-month mail redirection. Mr K advised that despite providing access to the business’s meter to obtain a final reading, an estimated bill had been received from his supplier. The bill had been paid in full and Mr K assumed that the account was finalised. A final bill had been received for the residential account also, and according to Mr K was paid in full. Mr K was surprised when he subsequently discovered that a default credit listing had been applied by the supplier in relation to outstanding amounts on both the business and residential accounts. He was still receiving redirected mail from the previous address but had not received any correspondence from the supplier regarding the outstanding amounts or debts listed.

Complaint:

Mr K complained that the default credit listings were inappropriate and should be lifted.

Outcome:

The investigation did not find any evidence of Mr K having finalised either the residential or the business electricity accounts with the supplier and therefore the supplier was entitled to bill him until such time as the accounts were finalised.

 

We found that the supplier and distributor had made several attempts to disconnect the business property, but due to access issues had not been able to, until a real estate agent had provided access in December 2011. Following unpaid bills at the residential property, the supplier requested disconnection of the premises in February 2011. At this time, a new occupier had moved in and a final bill was issued to Mr K. The supplier continued to send bills and reminder notices to Mr K at the address listed on the accounts (where the redirection was in place).

 

The supplier was able to demonstrate that a notice of credit default listing had been sent to Mr K and that the notice was in accordance with all the relevant credit reporting requirements. The default credit listing was found to be appropriate and a debt of more than $500 was still outstanding.

case studyHigh bill due to seasonal usage

Scenario:

Mr D received his quarterly electricity bill which was $150 more than his previous bill. He had called his retailer who explained to Mr D that his bill was based on an actual reading of his meter and that there was no reason to believe the bill was incorrect.

Complaint:

Mr D did not believe the bill was correct and was not happy with the response from his retailer. He believed that his retailer should reduce the bill to bring it in line with his previous bills.

Outcome:

Our office assisted the customer in establishing why the bill appeared higher than expected.

 

The average daily usage on the customer’s previous bill had been 9.2 kWh per day, while on the high bill it was 15.6 kWh per day. The high bill also showed that the average daily usage from the same time in the previous year had been 15.1 kWh. While the bill was higher than the previous bill, it was in line with what the customer had used in the same period in the previous year.

There had also been a rate increase in the previous 12 months making the usage the current year cost slightly more than it had been in the previous year.

 

After discussion with the customer he understood and acknowledged that the bill was consistent with his previous usage. Mr D agreed to work with his retailer to pay off the bill without the need for us to raise a complaint.

Tip: Many people see their electricity or gas usage increase and decrease seasonally, so it is important to compare a bill to the same period in the previous year, rather than comparing to the last bill received.

case studyHigh bill due to faulty meter

Scenario:

Mrs P’s bill had always been approximately $300 per quarter until she received a bill for $750 without having changed the way she was using electricity at her property. Mrs P called her retailer to tell them that she thought there was a mistake in her bill. The retailer responded that while the bill was based on an actual meter read, they agreed it was unusually high compared to previous bills. The retailer also agreed to investigate the matter.

Complaint:

Mrs P contacted our office after she was told by the retailer that the distributor had confirmed the meter reading as correct, and that the bill was payable. The customer still disputed the accuracy of the bill.

Outcome:

Our office advised the customer that because the reading was confirmed as correct, there were two possibilities for the higher than expected bill; more power had been used or the meter was faulty. We recommended that the customer arrange for an electrician to check her appliances and wiring for any faults or damage that could drive up her consumption, and that she could request to have her meter tested for faults at her cost if found not to be faulty.

 

We referred Mrs P’s complaint to the retailer. The distributor conducted a meter test and found that the meter was operating outside of allowable tolerances. The meter was replaced. As the meter was found to be faulty, the customer was reimbursed the cost of the test. The bill was adjusted accordingly and reissued to Mrs P.

Tip: Approximately 99% meters tested are found to be operating within allowable tolerances and unless the meter is faulty, the customer may be required to pay for a meter test. For these reasons we suggest that you explore other possibilities before paying for a meter test, and only request a test when you have eliminated other potential causes such as an increase in consumption or tariff rates, a longer billing period, or an estimated reading.

case studyHigh bill due to solar (PV) operating with analogue meter

Scenario:

Mr and Mrs N had a Solar System installed and were expecting a significant reduction in their next electricity bill. When the bill arrived it was higher than previous bills.

 

Mr and Mrs N called their retailer and found out that their last scheduled reading had been estimated. The customers did not understand why the read was estimated when their meter is accessible. They arranged a ‘special meter reading’ with their retailer to obtain an actual reading. The read was conducted, but the bill again showed an estimated reading.

Complaint:

Mr and Mrs N remained dissatisfied as their solar installer had told them that their bills would be much lower once their solar system was installed. They could not get a satisfactory explanation from their retailer of why their bills were being estimated.

Outcome:

We discovered in discussion with the customers that their solar system had been turned on prior to their import/export meter being installed. Mr and Mrs N had an analogue/spinning disc meter and the disc was spinning backwards due to the generation of electricity from the solar system.

 

We explained that the solar system should not have been turned on until an import/export meter had been installed as this is a breach of section 85(1)(b) of the Electricity Act of 1996 and civil penalties can be applied.

 

Mr and Mrs N were made aware that their meter spinning backwards caused a read that was lower than the previous meter read, which in practice should not happen. Therefore SA Power networks had to estimate the reading. Neither SA Power Networks nor the retailer had any obligation to amend the reading where the data was not captured accurately due to the use of the meter with a solar system installation.

 

We raised a case with the electricity retailer to ensure it was assessed at a higher level. We also advised the customer that if the retailer refuses to adjust the bill they could take matter up with the solar installer who had provided the customers with inaccurate advice that the solar system could be turned on.

 

In this case SA Power Networks and the retailer amended the bill once the import/export meter had been installed.

Tip: Many solar installers will advise consumers that it is OK to have their solar system on before their import/export meter has been installed. This is not the case and customers should refer to documentation available from SA Power Networks on solar systems and import/export meters. It is the responsibility of the customer to be fully informed of their obligations.

case studyHigh bill due to fault with solar (PV) system

Scenario:

Ms K had a solar system for a number of years and used to see a large credit on her electricity bill for the solar power generated over the summer months. This year, when her summer bill arrived, it showed only a minimal amount of credits. Ms K called her retailer as she believed there had been a mistake made and asked for her meter to be re-read. The retailer arranged another reading and the distributor confirmed that the original reading was correct.

Complaint:

Ms K remained dissatisfied and felt that there must be a problem with the meter, but was unwilling to pay to have the meter tested.

Outcome:

Ms K contacted our office and we discussed all possible causes for the reduction in solar generation, including whether the solar system was working. The customer thought it was but had not checked the system. On doing so, it became apparent that the solar system was not functioning. It seemed likely that the system had stopped working at some point during the last billing period.

 

Ms K was advised to contact her solar company, as the retailer had acted correctly and billed her based on the actual data from her meter. No case was raised with the retailer as the fault was in the solar system.

Tip: Don’t wait for your electricity bill to make sure that your solar system is working correctly and check your solar system on a regular basis. If there is a problem with your solar system you will have already missed out on generation and credits by the time you receive your electricity bill. Your retailer will not apply credits for periods when your solar system was not generating electricity, regardless of electricity generated during the same period in previous years. It is your responsibility to ensure your solar system is operational and functioning correctly.

case studyRetailer failed to issue bills

Scenario:

Mr R had not received a bill for his electricity account for 12 months. He had contacted his electricity retailer on numerous occasions requesting a bill and on each occasion was advised that bills would be sent. Mr R stopped calling his electricity retailer after still not having been billed for three billing cycles in a row. He then received four bills at once without any further information to accompany them. Mr R called his retailer to query the delay with the bills and to having received four bills at once. The retailer was unable to explain the delay and offered Mr R a payment plan to assist him paying off the bills.

Complaint:

Dissatisfied with the response from his electricity retailer, Mr R sought to better understand his rights in this situation.

Outcome:

We explained to Mr R that if a retailer fails to issue a bill through their own fault they can only backbill the customer for nine months prior to the date of the bill.

On reviewing the bills now received it was confirmed that credits had been applied back to the oldest bills to ensure that the customer was only being charged for 9 out of the 12 months’ worth of bills he had been issued.

 

We also explained to Mr R that the retailer had an obligation to give him the same length of time to pay off the bill as the period they are charging him for – in this case 9 months.

 

After our intervention Mr R was confident enough to go back to his retailer and arrange a payment plan in the knowledge that he had been billed within regulations.

Tip: It is important to understand that you can be charged if bills are being issued by the retailer but are not reaching you for other reasons; so you should ensure that the retailer has your current postal or email address (dependent on how you receive your bills.) If the retailer advises that bills have been issued, consider the possibility that there may be a postal issue. The 9 month back-bill rule will only apply if the retailer is failing to issue the bills through their fault (for example I.T. issues at the retailer’s office). Please note also that this rule is only applicable to residential customers.

case studyTransfer cooling off paperwork not received

Scenario:

Mr H was approached by sales staff from an energy retailer while at a shopping centre, and he signed paperwork agreeing to transfer his gas and electricity to that retailer at that time. A few days later Mr H was contacted by his existing retailer who offered him a better deal if he remained with them. He agreed to accept the offer and not switch retailers. Mr H’s existing retailer also promised to send him paperwork to complete and return to them in order to stop the transfer. Mr H received, completed and returned the paperwork to his existing retailer as advised.

 

The next bill Mr H received was the final bill from his current retailer. Mr H called the retailer who told him he had been transferred to another retailer. Mr H explained this was not what he had wanted, and was advised to contact the other retailer.

 

On contacting the retailer he had been transferred to, Mr H was told that no cooling off notification had been received from him, and that the transfer had been completed. Mr H was also told there would be an exit fee applicable if he now wanted to cancel his contract with them.

Complaint:

Mr H did not know how to resolve the situation and did not wish to remain with the retailer he had transferred to. He felt it was unreasonable to have to pay a fee to leave the new retailer as he had followed all instructions from his current retailer.

Outcome:

We explained to Mr H that after entering into a contract, he had 10 business days in which he could have cancelled the contract he signed in the shopping centre. If the contract wasn’t cancelled within that period then the contract was valid. The customer did not read the ‘welcome pack’ he received from the retailer detailing the 10 business day ‘cooling off period’ as he had already spoken to, and decided to stay with, his current retailer.

 

The customer did not receive the paperwork to stop the transfer from the retailer he wanted to stay with until well after 10 business days had passed. For this reason, the new retailer he signed with was not advised of the cancellation request within 10 business days and rightfully processed the transfer.

 

Our office raised a complaint with the retailer that the customer wanted to remain with, as they had advised the customer that they would take care of preventing the transfer but failed to do so.

 

The existing retailer arranged to have the customer transferred back to them retrospectively. This meant that from the customer’s perspective it appeared as if he had never left the retailer.

Tip: If you wish to withdraw from a contract within the 10 business day cooling off period (commencing from the date you receive the disclosure statement and terms and conditions of your plan from the retailer), or cancel an existing contract, it is best practice to contact the relevant retailer yourself. You should note the time and date you call, who you speak with, and request a cancellation number. This is the only way you can be sure that your cancellation request has reached the retailer within the defined cooling off period time frame. If a cancellation request is not received by the retailer within the cooling off period then they are within their rights to apply the contract that you have agreed to and exit fees may then apply if you still wish to break the agreement.

case studyCustomer did not consent to transfer

Scenario:

Mrs C had not received a bill from her retailer for her last billing cycle. She had received a letter from a different retailer addressed to ‘The Occupier’, informing the occupant that this retailer was now supplying the electricity to the property and that the occupant should contact them urgently to establish an account. As Mrs C had never spoken with this ‘new’ retailer, she called her existing retailer. She was advised that as she was no longer a customer of theirs, the last bill she had received from them had been the final bill. They suggested that she contact the ‘new’ retailer.

 

Mrs C called the ‘new’ retailer and was advised that she needed to establish an account with them so that they could send her a bill. Mrs C stated that she did not want to do this as she did not want to be transferred, and that she would be contacting the Ombudsman.

Complaint:

Customer was concerned and unhappy that she had been transferred to a new retailer without her consent and was being told she had to provide them with her details so that they could bill her.

Outcome:

We explained to Mrs C that it was likely that the transfer had occurred in error since the new retailer had sent a letter to “the Occupier” and clearly didn’t know who she was.

 

We raised a complaint with the new retailer and asked them to provide evidence of the customer’s explicit informed consent for the transfer (which could be a signed contract or a recorded verbal agreement). The retailer was unable to locate any consent and agreed that the transfer had been in error. They transferred Mrs C back to her previous retailer retrospectively, so from the customer’s perspective it appeared as if she had never left her retailer of choice. She was advised that her chosen retailer would now bill her for the period that had been missed and that she could ask for an extension or payment plan when the bills arrived.

Tip:Even though letters addressed to ‘The Occupant’ or ‘Dear Customer’ from energy retailers may appear to be “junk mail” it is important that you open them. This is the way a retailer will make contact if they are supplying electricity or gas to an address but do not have a name on file for the resident.
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