Defective private electrical line - total fire ban (D/98/80)

Case number: D/98/80
Date of Decision: 28 January 1999
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

A customer contacted EIOV and advised that her power supply had been disconnected on a day of total fire ban without receiving prior warning from her electricity company.

The customer advised that a week before her power was disconnected she had received a Notice of Defect from the company advising that a power pole on her property had been condemned as it was defective. The Notice advised that she had 30 days to correct the defect, by undergrounding her power supply. The Notice also stated that her power may be disconnected on a day of total fire ban.

The customer advised that subsequent to receiving the Notice, her husband had contacted the company and advised the company that they had arranged to underground their supply within the time required. A few days later the customer and her family returned home to find that their power had been disconnected. When the customer contacted the company to find out what had happened, the company advised that their supply had been disconnected due to the condition of their pole and that it was a day of total fire ban. The company advised the customer that their power could not be reconnected that day or the following day as it was also a day of total fire ban.

When the customer contacted the company again the following day to find out when they could be reconnected, the company arranged for an electrical inspector to inspect their line again. Following this inspection, the company advised the customer that if they staked their pole, their supply could be reconnected. The customer did this and the company subsequently reconnected their supply later that day.

The customer raised the following issues with EIOV:

  • the Defect Notice stated only that power may be disconnected on a total fire ban day;
  • the customer would have expected the courtesy of a further contact by the company before disconnection;
  • their power was disconnected when the customer had already advised the company that the works would be carried out within the time limit.
  • the customer would have staked the pole earlier if they had been advised by the company that this would have prevented their power being disconnected.

The customer stated that as a result of their power being disconnected she and her family experienced a number of inconveniences, including having to relocate stock in very hot weather and having to hire a generator. Both the customer's children required the use of an electric ventilator for medical conditions and alternative accommodation had to be found for them. The disconnection of the customer's power significantly disrupted the normal operations of their farm and domestic arrangements. In its investigation EIOV requested the company provide information regarding the issues raised by the customer, including details of its policy regarding disconnecting customers with defective supply lines.

The company advised EIOV that the Notice sent to the customer was a standard form notice which was used in the case of both urgent and non-urgent defects, which was why the Notice did not state outright that the customer's power would be disconnected. The company stated that no additional communication to the customer prior to the disconnection was seen to be required.

The company also stated that the option of temporary repairs (staking the customer's pole) was not usually offered, except in exceptional circumstances. However, the company advised that it was currently reviewing its policies regarding defects on private lines and communication with customers regarding such defects and possible disconnection of their supply.

EIOV sought advice from the Office of the Chief Electrical Inspector (OCEI), who advised that the company had not followed their own internal procedure and current industry practice in their actions. It advised that the company should have given the customer the option of staking the pole, prior to disconnecting their supply.

The OCEI also advised that under current regulations, the company did not have the specific power to disconnect supply in circumstances such as the customer's.

The company apologised to the customer for the inconvenience its actions had caused and credited the customer's account by $200 as a matter of customer service. However, the customer remained dissatisfied with the company's response and requested that her case be determined by the Ombudsman.

In her Binding Decision, the Ombudsman took into account a number of factors, including the company's responsibility to maintain the safety of electrical assets, the advice received from the OCEI and the distress experienced by the customer as a result of the disconnection. The Ombudsman also took into account good industry practice and relevant codes and regulations.

The Ombudsman took the view that the company had erred in failing to make it clear on the Defect Notice that the customer's supply would (not "may") be disconnected on days of total fire ban and by failing to notify the customer prior to disconnection. The Ombudsman also found that the company should have advised the customer that the pole could have been staked in order to avoid disconnection.

In light of the poor customer service received by the customer in the company's handling of the matter, the Ombudsman directed that the company should pay the customer the sum of $2,000 less the $200 customer service payment already received ($1,800 in total). The Ombudsman also directed that the company complete the review of its policy and procedure regarding customers with defective private electrical lines and submit the results of this review to EIOV for comment.