Res Online 18 (February 2017)

Number 18
February 2017

Res Online 18 - providing up-to-date information and statistics and analysis on energy and water complaints.

Overview

The Ombudsman's View

On issues watch – delays in new connections

Over the past year, we’ve seen quarterly increases in complaints about long, unexplained wait times, incorrect/missing/confusing information, and poor communication around new energy connections. In this issue of Res Online, we present a look at what has been driving these complaints. It points to a series of faults and errors, which have frustrated customers enough for them to seek the assistance of EWOV.

We also use three case studies to illustrate some of the underlying, inter-related and, in our view, preventable issues.

In the first case, the customer’s builder initiated the complaint because connection delay was costing her time and, potentially, money. Our Investigation revealed inconvenience and extra cost due to unreadable paperwork, a service order raised with the wrong distributor, and wrongful disconnection of supply to the site.

The second case highlighted issues around poor communication, inconvenience and extra cost, when the customer was wrongly told her gas connection was complete, so she laid concrete which then had to be cut up.

In the third case, one of a customer’s two connection requests was archived by mistake by the retailer and the customer didn’t realise this until he went to sell the property. He incurred costs for a settlement delay and tried to claim more than he should have against the electricity retailer.

Other case studies in this issue

  • Water customer disputes New Customer Contribution (NCC) charges
  • Customer faces debt collection action after billing and payment allocation errors
  • Disconnection after electricity retailer doesn’t correct its transfer error

Read this issue's case studies.

EWOV Roadshow

In October 2016, we embarked on our latest EWOV Roadshow, reaching out to organisations around Victoria that assist vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

Our aim is to improve awareness of EWOV’s free and independent dispute resolution service, and highlight common energy and water concerns and customer rights and responsibilities.

So far, we’ve travelled out to Ballarat and Wendouree, and into the Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy, Doncaster, Templestowe, Bulleen, Ringwood, Croydon, Dandenong, Mulgrave, Epping, St Albans, Sunshine, Preston and Lalor. We’ve visited over 30 organisations, which provide a wide range of local services for families, youth, children, the elderly, migrants and Indigenous communities, as well as local councils and legal centres. We expect this Roadshow to run until June 2017. Next up, we’re booked to head to Mildura, Kyabram, Yarra Ranges, Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Hobsons Bay, Ashburton and Camberwell.

Cynthia Gebert

Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)

If you have any feedback about Res Online, please contact Matt Helme, EWOV's Research and Communications Manager at: matt.helme@ewov.com.au.

Issues Watch

New connection delay

Cases up 138%

In the first quarter of 2016 (January to March), EWOV received 125 cases about delay in connecting a new electricity or gas supply. By the last quarter of 2016 (October to December) cases about delays in new energy connections had increased 138% to 297.

A mixed bag of common underlying issues

When they contacted EWOV, customers usually complained about long wait times, leading to missed deadlines and extra costs. In the complaints where it was necessary for us to open an Investigation, most often we found a combination of reasons for the new connection delay. Sometimes it was the fault of the energy retailer and/or distributor. Sometimes it was the fault of the customer and/or their builder/plumber/electrician. Sometimes it was a combination of these.

Cases received by EWOV about new connection delay Jan–Mar 2016 Apr–Jun 2016 Jul–Sep 2016 Oct–Dec 2016
Electricity 53 79 58 182
Gas 72 86 122 (1 LPG) 114 (1 LPG)
Totals 125 165 181 297

Long unexplained wait times

  • For the customer to find out whether an application is approved.
  • For the customer to receive a quote.
  • For the customer to be given a timeframe for the new supply to be connected.
  • Something else is required before installation can occur and the party who must provide it isn’t told.

Incorrect/missing/confusing information

  • Customer (or their builder/plumber/ electrician) fills the form out wrongly or leaves information out.
  • Customer is given conflicting/wrong information about the technical requirements of a connection.
  • Retailer sends the wrong information to the distributor (wrong address, wrong type of service order).
  • Retailer sends the service order to the wrong distributor.
  • Distributor provides technical information to the customer second or third hand, leading to
  • information loss and/or misinterpretation.
  • Distributor provides no reason for rejecting a service order or paperwork.
  • Limited access to the departments within the distributor which can answer questions about delays,
  • misinformation and errors.

Poor communication

  • Customer seeking an explanation is bounced between the retailer and the distributor.
  • The distributor refuses to speak directly to the customer, insisting they ring the retailer or have their plumber or electrician call to obtain the information.
  • Distributor rejects a service order, but doesn’t give the retailer a reason.

New connection delay case studies

Top Issues

Case studies

Cases by industry

Systemic Issues

Summary of systemic issue investigations opened and closed

October to December 2016

  Energy Water LPG
Open/Under Investigation 5 0 0
Closed 4 0 0

Note: Systemic issue investigations opened and closed during the above period that cannot yet be identified as being systemic haven’t been included.

Issues identified through EWOV’s case handling as systemic

October to December 2016

Gas supply interruptions when water entered gas mains

EWOV’s case handling highlighted that customers in specific areas of Melbourne had experienced frequent and sustained gas supply interruptions due to water entering the gas mains. Some customers also experienced damage to the gas meter and/or regulator. In some cases, the gas distributor’s crews weren’t able to flush all of the water from the gas mains. This meant another crew had to come out, leading to extended periods without supply. The gas distributor advised it was aware of the problems. It said it was addressing the network issue, with some areas requiring upgrading of low-pressure mains to high- pressure mains. It undertook that eligible customers would receive Guaranteed Service Level payments in recognition of the outages. SI/2016/64

Gas service to property charges billed after years of no billing

A customer complained to EWOV about being billed for gas service to property charges, after years of not having to pay them because there was no gas usage recorded on the meter. Contacted by EWOV, the energy retailer confirmed a change of its billing process. Until September 2015, it had billed for distributor pass-through service to property charges only where an account had been set up in a customer’s name. Its new process is to bill these charges to all connected properties, even if the property doesn’t use any gas. SI/2016/29

Application of pay-on-time discounts and concessions

EWOV’s case handling revealed evident customer confusion around pay-on-time discounts and concessions. Contacted by us, the energy retailer concerned said it calculates concessions on the basis of customers paying on time. This means that customers who don’t pay by the due date initially receive a lower concession amount. The retailer said the difference is applied to these customers’ subsequent bills. The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to EWOV that energy retailers are able to apply concessions and pay-on-time discounts in this manner, as long as there is no overall financial detriment for customers. SI/2016/31

No date of issue on reminder notices

EWOV’s case handling highlighted that some of the payment reminder notices issued by one energy retailer didn’t include the date of issue as required by clause 109(2)(a) of the Energy Retail Code. The retailer applied Wrongful Disconnection Payments to all affected customers. SI/2015/56

Public submissions made by EWOV

Consumer Protections for Behind the Meter electricity supply

Consultation on regulatory implications

Energy Market Transformation Team, Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council

Our submission drew on EWOV’s experience to respond specifically to four aspects of this consultation paper — equitable dispute resolution, vulnerable customers, new products and services and provision of information. In EWOV’s view, it is critical that there be thorough consideration of how customer protections continue to fit within new energy business models and associated products and services.

  • Access to free and independent external dispute resolution must continue to play a central role in the suite of customer protections.
  • There must be protections for vulnerable customers to be assured access to supply and hardship assistance.
  • New products and services must not be allowed to fall outside the jurisdiction of schemes such as EWOV because they are deemed to be commercial activities.
  • Customers must be assisted with information that enables them to make fully informed decisions when they enter contract arrangements for these products and services.

EWOV’s submission online

About this COAG consultation

Safety Net for Victorian Energy Consumers Facing Payment Difficulties

Draft Decision | Customer Advice Manual | Amendments to the Energy Retail Code

Essential Services Commission (ESC)

EWOV’s submission on the ESC’s Draft Decision broadly supported the proposed safety net framework, particularly its emphasis on early engagement and energy management assistance. We welcomed the immediate assistance and tailored assistance support elements, which we think will help retailers engage with customers and raise awareness of the retailer support available to them.

We also took the opportunity to highlight some areas, which we think would benefit from greater clarity to achieve the framework’s safety net objectives, including:

  • inclusion of information to highlight that EWOV is free and independent in the Customer Advice Manual and on customer notices
  • clearer explanation of how the safety net can support existing customers who already have significant account arrears, including early transition to Connect Support
  • retailer staff training and greater clarity under the Energy Retail Code to build the effectiveness of retailer referrals to support organisations
  • putting customers with an established pattern of payment problems on the best possible retail tariff as early as possible to help reduce their energy costs and limit retailer exposure to debt.
  • clearer practical guidance to help retailers understand how to deliver effective methods of energy management support
  • extension to pay-as-you-go customers of the proposed restriction on retailer switching by customers receiving the Energy Costs form of Connection Support
  • aspects of the Code amendments around payment plans, which we believe could be clearer and/or more precise.

EWOV’s submission online

About this ESC consultation

Transfer Accuracy Rule Change Request

Draft Determination

Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC)

EWOV’s submission gave in-principle support for the AEMC’s proposal to improve the process of correcting erroneous transfers and completing delayed transfers. Based on the information in the Draft

Determination, we agree that clarification of roles for new and old retailers in an erroneous transfer situation will improve customer experience and increase confidence in the market. Given our complaint handling experience that address mismatches continue to result in transfer errors, billing errors and disconnections, we supported a data cleanse of MSATS data by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)

EWOV’s submission online

About this AEMC consultation