Electricity supply outage (D/99/2)

Case number: D/99/2
Date of Decision: 27 January 2000
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

A customer contacted EIOV because she was dissatisfied with the actions of, and accuracy of information provided by, employees of her electricity company following loss of supply to her home. She was claiming $15,145.10 for stress, inconvenience, her expenses for an electrician, the cost of pruning a creeper, additional interest on a portion of her home loan relating to the cost of upgrading her supply, lost food and property devaluation.

The customer stated that she woke to find the power off and rang her electricity company. She said the company representative who came out disconnected the service line from the pole, after telling her he was unable to check the service fuse as it was positioned over a verandah, was inaccessible and would have to be relocated. She said he also told her that the service line would remain disconnected until the fault had been identified and rectified. The customer, and the electrician she had by this time called, said the representative told them there had been a fire and that the meter box and powerboard should be disconnected. The electrician said he queried the representative, but went ahead to disconnect the meter box and powerboard from the wall although he saw no evidence of a fire.

The customer then asked her electrician to move the service fuse and upgrade her property's supply to three-phase. She had in the past considered doing this to operate a kiln. She said the company representative confirmed this was possible and that once it was done, they should ring the company to request reconnection to supply. However, when they called the company, they found out there was paperwork that had to be completed. This delayed reconnection until later that day. The customer said that to claim through her insurance company, she pursued the electricity company for a letter saying that fire had caused the supply interruption. When it eventually arrived, the letter stated the cause was a blown service fuse.

EIOV's investigation showed that the customer and the company had quite different views of the events of the day in question, and that there was some contradiction between the statements of the customer and her electrician. The company said its representative did not tell the customer there had been a fire. Rather, the customer had incorrectly been told this by a customer service representative during a subsequent phone call. It also said its representative did not tell the electrician to remove the powerboard, although its removal was necessary to change to three-phase supply, nor did he advise the customer's electrician on the new location of the point of attachment. The company claimed the cost of repairs was increased by the customer's decision to upgrade her supply, and that the letter to the customer was delayed because it had undertaken further investigation. It had also found a note in its system that stated, wrongly, that the mains had been burnt out.

The customer said the company representative had rushed into disconnecting her supply. And, as he did not inspect the meter, the meter box or the point of attachment, she did not know how he determined the cause of the fault. She was unhappy about the location of the new point of attachment as she thought it detracted from the value of her property. She said she would not have considered upgrading her supply if the incident had not occurred.

The Office of the Chief Electrical Inspector (OCEI) advised EIOV that due to the inaccessibility of the service fuse, the company representative had little alternative but to disconnect the line, because he could not determine the cause of the outage and therefore did not know there was a potential safety risk. An independent engineering expert visited the customer's premises and told EIOV that the location of the new point of attachment was the most practical given the mandatory requirements of the past and present Electricity Safety (Network Assets) Regulations.

In making her determination, the Ombudsman took into account information provided by the customer, the company and the customer's electrician, as well as the technical advice the EIOV had received. The Ombudsman considered that it was probable the advice about the fire was given to the customer on the day in question, and that it was on the basis of this advice that the customer contacted her electrician to carry out repair works. It was also the case, however, that the customer's electrician ascertained almost immediately that there had not been a fire and that the cause of the outage was a blown service fuse. The customer had the option at that stage of requesting her electrician simply to relocate the point of attachment and renew the mains. The additional work to upgrade supply to three-phase was undertaken in the knowledge that such work was not strictly necessary. Accordingly, the Ombudsman did not consider the company to be responsible for the costs of upgrade to three-phase supply or the interest claimed in relation to that cost.

The Ombudsman noted the customer was unhappy about the delay in obtaining a letter from the company confirming the cause of the supply interruption, but did not consider that the timing was excessive since the company provided the letter within 3 weeks of the customer's original request. The Ombudsman found that it was reasonable for the company to fully investigate the customer's request, and that the company was in the circumstances unable to provide the customer with documentation supporting her claim against her insurance company, given that there had not been a fire at her premises.

The Ombudsman did not consider the customer's claim for loss of value to her house and the cost of pruning of the creeper to hold merit. The customer's electrician had advised EIOV that the decision about the position of the point of attachment was his, made in consultation with the customer and her husband, and the customer's husband had taken part in adapting equipment to attach the service fuse to the house. The customer argued that in view of the advice provided by the company representative, she believed there was no alternative location. The Ombudsman considered, however, that the customer could have discussed the possibilities with her electrician if she opposed his proposal.

The Ombudsman did not consider that the company provided the customer with adequate information at the time of the disconnection of supply to her house. It was possible therefore that this placed the customer in a position where she felt she was not able to consider the options available to her. However, advice from the OCEI indicated that the actions of the company in disconnecting the service line to the customer's house were necessary from a safety perspective, as the service fuse was inaccessible. The Ombudsman considered that while the company was justified in disconnecting the service line, it bore a responsibility to explain to the customer exactly why that course of action was taken and what her alternatives were. And, as disconnection of the service line was reasonable, the Ombudsman did not consider that the company was responsible for the costs of food claimed.

On the basis of the evidence before her, the Ombudsman considered that appropriate consultation procedures by the company would have avoided the misunderstandings that followed. She did not consider, however, that the losses for which the customer was claiming compensation were the responsibility of the company, and determined that a fair and reasonable outcome was that the company pay the customer $300 in recognition of poor customer service and inadequate information provision.