Case number: GD/99/3
Date of Decision: 31 January 2000
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes
A customer contacted EIOV claiming that his gas company had denied liability for damage to the gas fitting lines at a rental property he owned and had refused to reimburse him for costs relating to repairs at the property.
The customer stated that he had been approached by a gas company representative seeking his permission to relocate the meter at his rental premises from the rear of the property to the front to facilitate renovations to a neighbouring property. The customer said he agreed reluctantly, on the understanding that his house would sustain no damage and the works would be at no cost to him. The customer said that three days after the works were completed, his tenant noticed the smell of gas and phoned the gas emergency contact number. A gas inspector visited the house and confirmed a gas leak in the customer's installation. The customer said the gas inspector advised his tenant to ask him as the landlord to contact a plumber. The inspector also disconnected the gas supply pending the location of the leak and the completion of repair work.
Acting on the information from the gas emergency inspector via his tenant, the customer said he engaged a plumber to locate and repair the gas leak. He said the plumber told him that as the leak was in the gas fitting lines under the floor, and was inaccessible, it would be preferable to disconnect the existing fitting lines and run new fitting lines under the roof. This work was undertaken at a cost of $935. The customer stated that when he contacted the gas company for reimbursement of the $935, he was told that the company did not consider itself liable for the cost of the repairs.
During EIOV's investigation, the gas company advised that when the details of the meter relocation works had been discussed and agreed onsite with the customer, the customer had been advised that it was highly possible that the fitting lines may be faulty due to their age, and that as the owner of the premises, he was responsible for their maintenance should they fail during the required pressure test. The company stated that the fitting lines were tested before the work started and showed a minor, but permissible, gas escape in line with the age and general condition of the pipes. When the works were completed, the whole installation was tested again, showed a permissible leak and gas supply was restored. The company claimed that the customer's engagement of a private gasfitter was his responsibility. It also said it had no record of a service call by the customer's tenant to attend the property.
The customer reiterated that he had agreed to the meter relocation works as long as there was no cost to him. He said there was no onsite meeting. Rather a gas company representative had telephoned him. No mention was made of pressure testing during the telephone conversation, nor of the possibility that the pipes may need replacing at his cost. He stated that he engaged the gasfitter following advice to his tenant by the gas emergency inspector. As the gas smell was noticed some three days after the gas company's works, he believed the company's contractor had damaged the pipe.
As part of its investigation, EIOV sought independent technical advice and advice from the Office of Gas Safety (OGS). The technical report indicated that the house and pipework were over 30 years old, that any works carried out ran the risk of causing a leak, that the customer's actions to repair the leaks under the floor were reasonable given the sequence of events, that the option taken by the plumber was reasonable, and that due to the age of the pipework the leak could have been the result of corrosion. The OGS report indicated that it was not possible to determine whether the company's works contributed to the gas leak, but that when any existing pipework is subjected to alteration there is a risk that pipework may be affected.
EIOV also contacted the customer's plumber who said he had not been able to access the existing pipe as it was under the floor, so he was not able to determine the exact cause of the leak.
In her binding decision, the Ombudsman concluded that when undertaking works such as meter relocation, a gas company should inform the customer in writing of the nature of the works and the respective customer and company obligations, as well as give the customer the opportunity to provide input or further discuss any issues. She noted that this was not done in this case. The Ombudsman directed the gas company to review its consultation policy and procedures to ensure this occurred in the future.
The Ombudsman also found that on the basis of the evidence before her, she was not able to determine conclusively the exact cause of the leak. However, in the absence of firm evidence one way or the other, it was equally possible that the works undertaken by the gas company contributed to the leak as not. Accordingly she determined that a fair and reasonable outcome was for the gas company to pay the customer $467.50, representing half the cost of repairs to the gas fitting lines at the customer's premises.