Res Online 22 (February 2018)

Number 22
February 2018

Res Online 22 - providing up-to-date information, statistics and analysis on energy and water complaints.

Overview

The Ombudsman's View

SMS is helping us ensure Assisted Referral is fair and effective

Assisted Referral of customers back to someone at a higher level within their energy or water company is an important stage in EWOV's dispute resolution process. In 2016, when we surveyed customers about the process, we found they were frustrated by a seeming absence of follow-up by EWOV of their Assisted Referral. When we explored this further with them, it became clear that one of the most important messages about the Assisted Referral process was getting lost.

Customers said they didn't know they could come back to EWOV if they weren't contacted by the company, or if they remained dissatisfied following contact with the company. While we knew we were presenting the 'you can come back to EWOV' message — more than once, in different ways and at different times — it was apparent that this part of the process wasn't well-understood.

We decided to trial an SMS later in the Assisted Referral process, to remind customers they had this option. The trial was successful and the reminder SMS has now been introduced permanently. As well as delivering benefits for customers, we anticipate being able to provide feedback to energy and water companies to help drive internal dispute resolution improvements too.

The feature article in this issue of Res Online explains our SMS initiative, with some examples.

Other case studies in this issue

Affordability Report gets a new look

We’ve revamped EWOV's quarterly Affordability Report to shed more light on the energy and water credit complaints we receive. Alongside the usual trend reporting, each quarter we’ll put the spotlight on a different topic, delving a little deeper into the data to share new insights. For the December 2017 issue the focus was public housing tenants. Read it here

Issues Watch: How SMS is adding value to EWOV's resolution process

We're always looking for ways to make EWOV's dispute resolution process work better.

In August 2017, after a successful trial in late 2016, we introduced a follow-up SMS for customers whose complaint EWOV initially handles by Assisted Referral. It's still early days, but the addition of SMS in this way is already delivering positive outcomes towards ensuring the Assisted Referral process is fair and that customers understand their options.

Surveying showed the 'you can come back to EWOV' message wasn't getting across to many customers.

In April 2016, we surveyed customers specifically about the effectiveness of the Assisted Referral process. The survey results clearly showed we could be doing more to improve customers' understanding that the referral back to their energy or water company isn't necessarily the end of the resolution process. 41% of respondents weren't happy with the information provided to them as part of the Assisted Referral. 13% of respondents didn't know they could return to EWOV if they weren't contacted by their company. 17% didn't know they could return to EWOV if they were unhappy with the outcome of the Assisted Referral. So, despite our telling Assisted Referral customers several times in writing and during conversation that they could and should return to EWOV if the Assisted Referral didn't resolve their complaint, in many cases the message wasn't getting through.

We tested a different way of getting the message across to customers.

With the support of the EWOV Limited Board and our Process Advisory Committee, we decided to trial an SMS reminder (about coming back to EWOV) further along in the Assisted Referral process. Of the 355 customers who received an SMS in the trial, 49 recontacted EWOV, with 22 complaints progressing to either Real Time Resolution or Investigation. Significantly, the outcomes achieved once these complaints returned to EWOV were different from those proposed at Assisted Referral.

An SMS reminder is now a permanent part of EWOV's Assisted Referral process.

In August 2017, we added an SMS reminder to the Assisted Referral process permanently and it's already delivering positive outcomes. The SMS is sent to the customer 45 days after referral of the complaint to the energy or water company. It serves as a timely reminder that the customer can come back to EWOV if the Assisted Referral hasn't resulted in resolution of their complaint. In the five months from August 2017 to December 2017, we sent 5,479 SMSs. 436 customers contacted EWOV within five days of receiving the SMS. 279 complaints advanced to an Investigation.

SMS CASE STUDY 1

Affordable payment instalments agreed after EWOV's SMS follow-up

2017/16135

After receiving a series of bills she disputed as too high, and with debt collection action initiated by the electricity retailer, Ms Y switched retailer in March 2017. In early August 2017, she was notified that she still owed the previous retailer around $2,000. At this point Ms Y contacted EWOV seeking assistance to resolve the situation.

We registered Ms Y's complaint as an Assisted Referral and facilitated contact with her by a higher-level contact within the energy retailer. After receiving EWOV's SMS follow-up, Ms Y re-contacted us saying she was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Assisted Referral. She said the retailer had told her she would need to make payments of $400 a fortnight towards the arrears. Ms Y said she wasn't in a position to do this, and thought it was unreasonable.

Responding to EWOV's Investigation of Ms Y's complaint, the retailer confirmed Ms Y owed just over $1,000. It acknowledged Ms Y's concerns and her financial situation, and proposed a payment plan of $50 a fortnight until the arrears was cleared.

Ms Y was satisfied with this outcome and the complaint was closed.

SMS CASE STUDY 2

Credit default listing removed after EWOV's SMS follow-up

2017/16861

Mr J complained about a default listed on his credit report by an electricity retailer. He said he'd moved overseas in December 2014. His flatmate had remained in the apartment and Mr J assumed the flatmate was paying the electricity bills. In April 2016, he became aware that the final bill of $524 wasn't paid and a default against him had been listed for it. Mr J said he paid the bill in full, but couldn't get the retailer to lift the default listing.

We registered Mr J's complaint as an Assisted Referral and facilitated contact with him by a higher-level contact within the energy retailer. After receiving EWOV's SMS follow-up, Mr J re-contacted us saying he was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Assisted Referral. He said the retailer still refused to lift the default listing, even though it was apparent that it knew the last known address in its records for him wasn't accurate, so the letter of intent to list the default had been sent to him at the wrong address.

EWOV Investigation of Mr J's complaint found that the electricity retailer was told, twice, that Mr J had moved out of the property before it issued the final bill and moved to list the default. We also found that the retailer made no attempt to gain Mr J's current address. The retailer lodged a request for the default listing to be removed, advising that this would take 48 hours.

Mr J was satisfied with this outcome and the complaint was closed.

SMS CASE STUDY 3

Billing confirmed as correct and payable after EWOV's SMS follow-up

2017/14247

Ms W complained about high electricity billing. She contacted EWOV seeking an explanation and a 50% reduction.

We registered Ms W's complaint as an Assisted Referral and facilitated contact with her by a higher-level contact within the energy retailer. After receiving EWOV's SMS follow-up, Ms W re-contacted us saying she was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Assisted Referral.

Ms W said the retailer's higher-level contact told her the bills were high because she was using more electricity than previously. Ms W said this couldn't be the case as she'd recently returned to work. She told us she didn't accept the usage data the retailer provided to her, or its advice that she owed about $700. She wanted to close her account and switch to another retailer. She said she was promised further contact from the retailer, which didn't eventuate. Ms W agreed to pay $200 as an undisputed amount and $50 fortnightly while EWOV investigated her concerns.

EWOV's Investigation found that Ms W was billed correctly based on her usage. There was evidence of overnight winter heating loads on many occasions. It also appeared that split system cooling was used on hot days. We found that no backbills were issued and the billing was up to date. We confirmed that the rates and charges were as contracted with Ms W when the account was opened. Ms W was surprised by this. She though the retailer could have done more to explain her billing and help her understand her usage.

The retailer confirmed Ms W owed $703. It provided an $80 customer service credit, reducing this to $623, which Ms W agreed to pay off at $100 a fortnight.

The complaint was closed.

Top Issues

Case Studies

Cases by Industry

Systemic Issues

Summary of systemic issue Investigations opened and closed

October to December 2017
 

  Energy Water LPG
Open/Under Investigation 4 0 0
Closed 1 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.

 

Systemic issues identified through EWOV's case handling

October to December 2017

Multiple discount offers applied to energy accounts

EWOV's complaint handling revealed that some customers of one energy retailer were incorrectly receiving multiple discounts up to a cumulative total of 40%. Some of these discounts continued past the expiry date of the offer, and despite a new discount offer being applied to the account. After becoming aware of the issue, the energy retailer informed affected customers, removed the discounts they shouldn't have received and, as appropriate, provided options for them to change to a new offer. SI/2017/24

Public submissions made by EWOV

Draft Report - Review of regulatory arrangements for embedded networks

Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC)

EWOV's comments on the draft report supported the AEMC's proposal for significant reform to address the deficiencies in the existing regulatory framework for embedded entities. The AEMC's aim of better aligning regulation for standard supply and embedded network customers is in line with EWOV's long-standing view that, as far as possible, all energy customers should benefit from equal protections. In particular, we welcomed the AEMC's endorsement of Ombudsman access as a core customer protection, which should always apply.

EWOV's submission online

About this AEMC consultation

 

AER Customer Price Information Review – Issues Paper

Australian Energy Regulator (AER)

EWOV welcomed the AER's review of how energy price information is shared with customers. Our submission included case studies of complaints about marketing, pricing and contract terms. We also made several practical recommendations for minimising these types of complaints.

EWOV's submission online

About this AER consultation

 

Draft Guidance Note – Payment Difficulty and Disconnection

Essential Services Commission (ESC)

EWOV welcomed the ESC's detailed guidance on the minimum standards of conduct for retailers under the proposed new Part 3 provisions of the Energy Retail Code. We confirmed that guidance of this kind will be valuable for EWOV in conciliating fair and reasonable complaint outcomes where customers are experiencing payment difficulties. It will also be useful and instructive when EWOV assesses retailer compliance with the Energy Retail Code prior to disconnection. We provided comments on aspects of the guidance note which we thought could be clearer.

EWOV's submission online

About this ESC consultation

 

Fixed benefit periods – notification obligations for energy retailers – Draft Decision

Essential Services Commission (ESC)

EWOV's submission drew on relevant case data to highlight a gradual increase over the past 18 months in complaints about contract terms variations. We provided our analysis of contract term variation complaints received in the July to September 2017 quarter, which highlighted tariff rates (or prices) as the issue most complained about. We used case studies to illustrate the customer experience in complaints where a contract benefit, such as a discount, changed after a fixed-term contract had expired.

EWOV's submission online

About this ESC consultation

 

AER Draft (Retail) Exempt Selling Guideline – November 2017

Australian Energy Regulator (AER)

In EWOV's submission, we supported the AER's inclusion of Ombudsman scheme access for residential customers. We noted that, in Victoria under the Government's General Exemption Order, small businesses will also have access to EWOV. We encouraged the AER to consider extending access for small business customers in the National Energy Market. We also supported the requirement on exempt sellers to have complaint handling and dispute resolution procedures, consistent with the Australian Standard.

EWOV's submission online

About this AER consultation

Glossary

Find out more about EWOV's issue and complaint terminology.