Case number: D/2000/81
Date of Decision: 24 February 2003
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes
Mr H complained to EWOV about the placement of a number of electricity poles, including a "tee-off" pole at the entrance of a property he was sub-dividing. Mr H said the positioning of the poles affected the visual amenity and consequent value of the sub-division. This was particularly of concern as he had never sub-divided a property before and had taken care with all aspects of the development. He also raised issues of concern regarding safety, drainage and site maintenance. He stated that the electricity distributor had not communicated with him immediately before the erection of the "tee-off" pole, which he wanted to place in a different location. Similarly he had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain details of the proposed location of the internal poles and that he was not informed of this until after pegging, with the result that the poles were now in the drain. He believed the distributor's location map had been deliberately vague. Mr H claimed that the amenity had affected sales of his blocks, to the amount of $2,500 per block, plus additional lost time and legal costs.
In response, the electricity distributor advised EWOV that:
- no special instructions had been received about the position of the entrance pole
- Mr H instructed it that supply be provided at the most economical cost
- its offer to do the work included a copy of the sub-division plan showing the proposed route of the overhead line, with the "teeoff" (entrance) pole positioned in accordance with normal design requirements, and
- the sub-division poles had been installed in accordance with code requirements.
Mr H's surveyor said he had had considerable difficulty in communicating with the distributor about establishing easements and pole placement and had made several unreturned calls. He and Mr H had become aware that the pole positions had been pegged, only after the event.
EWOV sought a range of advice including regulatory, technical, survey and specialist property valuation advice, as well as the views of another electricity distributor and the local Council.
The (then) Office of the Regulator-General advised that there are no specific regulations governing the installation of power poles on private subdivisions, save that distributors are required to exercise "reasonable care". The Office of the Chief Electrical Inspector was of the view that whilst it did not have specific safety concerns about the placement, the "tee-off" pole might impede access.
A distributor contacted by EWOV indicated that in this situation, it would meet onsite with customers to discuss their requirements and confirmed that Mr H's distributor should have provided him with specific details of the anticipated location of the poles prior to placement.
The local Council said that it also had some concerns about safety, access and maintenance, however, it would not take any remedial action. The independent property valuer noted that the "tee-off" pole detracted from the aesthetics, and noted it was difficult to establish the impact this had had on the buyers and prices paid.
The Ombudsman considered that there had been inadequate information provision and communication by the distributor in its dealings with Mr H. In particular she noted that the distributor should have provided Mr H with a clear and concise diagram of the location of the poles, and the opportunity to inspect the peggings before installation.
She noted Mr H's inexperience as a property developer, and that a more experienced developer may have negotiated differently.
From the independent advice received, the Ombudsman formed the view that while it appeared there had not necessarily been a contravention of safety or regulatory requirements, that the location of the poles may impede drainage and access and that the location of the tee-off pole had had some negative effect on the aesthetics at the entrance. She was of the view that this would have had some impact on the decisions of potential buyers.
She noted that as Mr H no longer controlled the body corporate, it would be inappropriate to direct that the poles be relocated, since that would impact third parties, who were, in any case, not obliged to comply with her decision.
The Ombudsman found that the distributor had consulted poorly and failed to provide information prior to the pole placement. She determined that a fair and reasonable outcome was that the distributor pay Mr H $2,500 in full and final settlement of his complaint. The amount of $2,500 took into account a fair and reasonable amount for customer service, and allowance for Mr H's costs and losses in relation to the sale of his properties. Mr H accepted the Ombudsman's decision.
This case highlights the importance of clear communication processes when dealing with customers undertaking works.