A customer disputes a large gas backbill that was based on estimated reads (September 2017)

High bills, Delayed and catch-up bills
Case Number 2017/12184
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

In April 2017 Mr A received a backbill of $4,747.00 for a year of gas usage, from 27 March 2016 to 23 March 2017. The backbill was based mostly on estimated reads, because for almost four years, no actual reading had been taken at his property. Mr A had emailed his retailer in August 2016 with a photograph of his current meter reading, asking to be billed accordingly. However, it hadn’t responded or organised an actual read.

When Mr A contacted his retailer to dispute the backbill, it reduced the bill to $2,431, saying that this was based on adjusted reads provided by the distributor. However, based on the meter reading he had taken himself, Mr A believed this amount was still too high. Mr A contacted EWOV, asking that the retailer to revise its backbill taking into consideration his August 2016 reading. EWOV raised an Assisted Referral, but due to the complexity of the case, the retailer asked EWOV to open an Investigation. While we investigated, Mr A agreed to pay $1,005 towards the bill – the amount he was not disputing.

The Investigation

The retailer acknowledged that the actual reading taken on 1 February 2017 was the first since 25 July 2013, and that it hadn’t used best endeavours to obtain actual readings. As a result, it could backbill for only nine months – the maximum allowed under Victoria’s Energy Retail Code. The retailer said that it had re-calculated the nine-month backbill based on adjusted reads from the distributor and applied pay on time discounts, bringing the amount still outstanding (on top of the $1,005 Mr A had already paid) to $858.92.

Although it provided this explanation, the retailer didn’t detail how it had calculated the new backbill amount, so EWOV’s conciliator asked for a breakdown of the calculations. The retailer acknowledged that most of the backbill (before 1 February 2017) was still based on estimates, and in recognition of this, offered to further reduce the amount owing to $700.

However, Mr A remained dissatisfied. We examined the retailer’s calculations and noted that the parts of the bill that were estimated assumed much higher daily usage than what was recorded during the period based on actual readings. The retailer had no historical usage data, so it couldn’t justify this discrepancy as being a result of seasonal variation. The estimated usage was also almost four times higher than what was suggested by Mr A’s own August 2016 reading, which he provided evidence of.  

The Outcome

The retailer accepted the calculations based on Mr A’s reading and agreed to waive the remaining $700 balance. Mr A was satisfied and the case was closed. 

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