Res online 20 (August 2017)

Number 20
August 2017

Res Online 20 - providing up-to-date information, statistics and analysis on energy and water complaints.

Overview

The Ombudsman's View

On issues watch – gas distribution cases
 

In the April to June quarter of 2017, EWOV received 26% more gas distribution cases than in the first quarter of 2017. Against those for the April to June quarter in 2016, gas distribution cases are up 49%. In this issue of Res Online, we take a look at some of the issues driving those increases — problems with both new connections and existing connections, quality of gas supply, unplanned outages and network assets.
 

We also use two case studies to illustrate the experiences of some gas customers. In the first case, an elderly customer contacted EWOV, frustrated by ongoing problems of losing his gas supply after water entered the gas pipes during heavy rain. This left him unable to cook or heat his home. In the second case, the customer had to pay $1,500 in out-of-pocket expenses when the abolishment of a gas meter wasn’t completed properly, delaying the demolition and rebuilding of his property.

Gas Distribution Cases Issues Watch

Other case studies in this issue

  • Charging for water services to a vacant property
  • High usage, high bills, but no energy audit
  • New property address and meter confusion

 

 

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

Gas distribution cases trending up

We’re monitoring some increases in gas distribution cases.

EWOV received 248 gas distribution cases in the April to June 2017 quarter, 26% more than in the previous quarter (197), and 49% more than in the same quarter in 2016 (166).

Distribution issues are about the infrastructure that delivers gas to a property — most commonly, provision (the connection of a new property to the gas network or the reconnection of an existing property), supply (the delivery of the gas; planned and unplanned interruptions) and land (the effect of the gas company’s activities or network assets on a customer’s property). EWOV has four gas distribution scheme participants.
 

The issues customers have complained about

Most of the ‘top 5’ gas distribution complaints (below) were registered as Assisted Referrals or Unassisted Referrals. Complaints that required the most EWOV Investigations were the ones about network assets’ (33% investigated) and ‘supply quality’ (29% investigated).

  1. Provision: existing connections
     
    • Delayed meter/service line abolishment
    • The meter exchange process (notification prior, restoration works, placement of new meter)
    • Not having their service reconnected post-works e.g. pilot light not relit.
       
  2. Provision: new connections: delays
     
    • Connection taking longer than the advised 20 - 30 business days, with no advice to customers that this timeframe won’t be met; customers find out when they call their distributor to ask what’s happening
    • Customers waiting up to 6 months for works to be completed, only to be told that further delays are likely
    • Extra costs for customers as a result of delays, e.g. not being able to move into the property (paying rent and a mortgage); prolonged building timeframes; machinery onsite that can’t be used; penalties from tradespeople (at development sites).
       

    In the feature in Res Online 18 (February 2017), we looked at the issues driving complaints about new connections. You’ll find that analysis on our website here.
     

    Under section 3.1 b of the Gas Distribution System Code: a distributor must use its best endeavours to connect a customer’s gas installation: at a supply address previously supplied by the distributor within one business day or within a period agreed with the customer or at a new supply address on the date agreed with the customer or, where no date is agreed, within 20 business days.

  3. Supply: quality
     
    • Water in gas pipes, often causing multiple/frequent outages and sometimes damage to appliances, and worsening as the weather gets wetter
    • Customer frustration where the distributor comes out to the property several times, but provides a temporary fix, rather than a long-term solution.
  4. Supply: unplanned outages

    • Outage caused by water in gas pipes and pressure issues
    • Gas service not reconnected after works, e.g. pilot light not relit
       
  5. Land: network assets
    • Asset placement e.g. where a pipe or meter has been installed; whether that was safe
    • leaks from the meters of gas lines

 

Gas Distribution Case Studies

Top Issues

Case Studies

Cases by Industry

Systemic Issues

Summary of systemic issue investigations opened and closed

Summary of systemic issue investigations opened
April to June 2017

 

  Energy Water LPG
Open/Under Investigation 9 0 0
Closed 8 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

April to June 2017

Missing ‘pay-by’ date leads to disconnections

Through EWOV’s case handling, we identified that a ‘pay-by’ date was missing from some bills sent by one energy retailer. As a consequence, the billing proceeded to disconnection notices and actual disconnection. The retailer advised that 495 customers had been affected. It reported the issue to the Essential Services Commission (ESC), and was working with the ESC on an appropriate remediation plan for the customers affected. SI/2015/38

Discounts marketed generally, but not available to all gas customers

EWOV’s case handling revealed that a third-party marketer was offering discounts that weren’t available to all customers. The customers who contacted EWOV believed this was misleading. The energy retailer advised that it had sent updated rates information to its third-party rate comparator companies (including the third-party marketer). This would ensure that customers in non-contestable gas regions were not marketed contracts, when the retailer can’t win the billing rights or doesn’t otherwise have a commercial arrangement in place. It said the third-party marketer’s website had been updated to remove reference to gas offers for customers who live in non-contestable areas. SI/2016/12

Billing display issues

Two cases to EWOV revealed potential issues with a retailer’s billing system. In one case, where the customer signed up to a new contract with the retailer, the contract discount appeared on the bills as a “#” symbol. In another case, the word ‘plan’ appeared on the customer’s bill, even though the customer was on a standard retail contract. The retailer said it became aware of the issue in 2014. It advised that bill updates in the next three months would address the display issues. It said that no customers were affected financially. SI/2016/23

Customers on payment plans didn’t receive pay-on-time discounts

Our case handling revealed that an issue with an energy retailer’s billing system resulted in a small number of customers on payment plans not receiving some of their pay-on-time discounts. The issue was linked to pro-rata billing periods. The retailer said 2,728 customers were affected (2,288 active and 440 inactive). It explained that the error came about when the ‘invoice posting date’ and the ‘billsmoothing due date’ were the same. It said it had implemented a billing system fix in November 2016 and had refunded overcharged active customers in accordance with the Energy Retail Code. It also said it was trying to contact affected inactive customers. SI/2016/57

12 days to pay rather than 13

Through our case handling, we found that a standard retail contract customer had received bills payable within 12 business days, rather than the 13 business days required by clause 26(1) of the Energy Retail Code. The energy retailer had reported the issue to the ESC, and was working with the ESC on an appropriate remediation plan for the customers affected. SI/2016/67

Generic meter numbers on bills

Through our case handling, we identified an instance where a Dear Occupier bill listed what appeared to be a generic meter number that didn’t match the customer’s actual meter number. The energy retailer confirmed an issue that affected 74,955 residential and business customers across Victoria. It said a billing system fix implemented in April 2017 had resolved the problem. It said it had reported the issue to the ESC in its six-monthly compliance report. SI/2017/6

Disconnections after no due date on reminder notices

Our case handling highlighted that one energy retailer’s reminder notices didn’t contain a due date, as required by clause 109(2)(b) of the Energy Retail Code. The retailer confirmed the problem affected some notices issued in December 2016. It said a system fix was implemented in February 2017. The retailer reported the issue to the ESC and was working with the ESC on an appropriate remediation plan for the customers affected. SI/2017/15

Old de-energisation error leads to loss of supply

Through our case handling we identified that a customer had lost supply due to an old de-energisation service order. The electricity distributor confirmed the issue had affected 137 customers. It said the unplanned outage event was triggered by a one-off fault affecting its Network Management System. The problem had been resolved and steps taken to prevent it happening again. It said no customers reported appliance damage or loss as a result of the outage. Affected customers were included in the distributor’s unplanned interruption Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) payment calculation. SI/2017/18

 

Public submissions made by EWOV

Public submissions made by EWOV

Review of regulatory arrangements for embedded networks
Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC)
Our submission on this AEMC consultation paper drew on EWOV’s previous comments on related topics and issues in other consultations. Most of our comments focused on section 3.3 of the paper, around dispute resolution and consumer protections. We repeated EWOV’s view that all energy customers, including those within embedded networks, should have access to free and independent dispute resolution. We also supplemented our response with case studies.
EWOV’s submission online
About this AEMC consultation

Payment Difficulty Framework - New Draft Decision
Essential Services Commission (ESC)

In EWOV’s experience, the hardship support provided to customers is inconsistent across retailers. We welcomed the retailer minimum standards for this within the ESC’s draft decision. We also highlighted some areas of the proposed framework that we believe could be made clearer — the phrase ‘best endeavours to contact’; proposed incorporation of the Operating Procedure Compensation for Wrongful Disconnection; the ‘steps’ to offer Standard Assistance; the level of ‘practical assistance’ to help customers reduce energy use; the meaning of ‘specific and timely advice’; the transition to the new framework of customers with high debt levels; and the reminder notice timeframe. We also made some observations on KPMG’s preliminary analysis of the impact over time of the proposed framework on EWOV.
EWOV’s submission online
About this ESC consultation

Inquiry into Retail Electricity Supply and Pricing (Issues Paper)
Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)

In responding to the ACCC’s issues paper, we provided a general submission, drawing on our experience of handling customer complaints to outline impediments to consumer engagement in the electricity market in Victoria. Our submission addressed marketing and transfer cases received by EWOV; customer type; comparative websites and offers available; contract variations and discounts; bill content; and embedded networks. We also included case examples.
EWOV’s submission online
About this ACCC consultation

Review of Victoria’s Electricity Safety Network – Issues Paper
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)

In EWOV’s submission on this issues paper, we provided an analysis of cases EWOV has received which potentially concern an electricity safety issue, with a particular focus on cases in 2016.
EWOV’s submission online
About this DELWP consultation