A customer in hardship due to domestic violence sought a better payment plan to deal with credit related issues (October 2017)

Trouble paying a bill, Debt collection and credit default listings
Case Number 2017/3977 and 2016/25174
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Ms H, an Office of Housing resident in hardship due to domestic violence, contacted EWOV after being dissatisfied with her retailer’s response to her situation. At the time, Ms H was unemployed and living in emergency housing with her two children. The retailer was aware of this. On 26 September 2016 she called her energy retailer. She said she asked to be put on a payment plan of $30, to be paid fortnightly, for her electricity and gas bills. She also said she requested a Utility Relief Grant form from her retailer. Ms H said the retailer offered her a payment plan of $200 per fortnight, which she could not afford. She said that because she did not accept the terms of the payment plan, the retailer refused to send her the Utility Relief Grant application. Ms H made a $30 payment in November 2016, and two $30 payments each in December 2016 on her gas and electricity accounts, but made no payments in January 2017 or in February before contacting EWOV. Subsequently, Ms H was in arrears for $883.46 on electricity and $962.69 for gas as of 17 February 2017 when she made contact with EWOV through her Financial Counsellor.

After the phone call the retailer increased Ms H’s payments to $200 fortnightly for both gas and electricity inclusive. Ms H said the retailer deducted the amount via Centrepay without her consent. When Ms H noticed, she cancelled the automatic payments. Ms H said she called the company again and asked for the amount of the payment plan to be lowered. She said she offered to pay the retailer $100 per fortnight for both gas and electricity. The retailer declined. Ms H found the retailer’s conduct to be unprofessional, and that the retailer was putting pressure on her. She said she had also accepted an offer on a marketing visit from the retailer for a 50% reduction on her bills, which was never applied.

When Ms H’s Financial Counsellor raised the complaint with EWOV, her resolution request was for the company to review its processes regarding application for the Utility Relief Grant form. She also asked that the retailer establish an affordable payment plan for Ms H, and issue an apology for poor customer service because the line of questioning from the retailer was of poor quality and didn’t take into account her situation of family violence.

The Investigation

The retailer told EWOV that Ms H’s average usage per fortnight amounted to $59.22 for electricity, and $120 for gas. The retailer confirmed that the last payment it had received from Ms H was for $60, for both electricity and gas, paid on 29 December 2016. The retailer also confirmed that Ms H’s concession had been applied to both accounts. The retailer said that it had issued a Utility Relief Grant application form for electricity on 10 December 2016. The retailer also said that an application for the Utility Relief Grant for gas was issued on 8 November 2016 and was applied successfully to Ms H’s account on 17 January 2017, and she was issued a credit in the amount of $500 on both her gas and electricity accounts. 

During the investigation Ms H continued to suffer ongoing difficulties due to domestic violence and depression. As a result of her situation, she faced ongoing financial hardship. EWOV conducted a financial assessment of her circumstances to ascertain how much she could afford to pay the retailer on a payment plan.

The Outcome

Following EWOV’s recommendations, the retailer offered to organise a payment plan to be reviewed after three months dependent on Ms H’s participation. In line with EWOV’s financial assessment, the retailer offered a hardship payment arrangement of $100 fortnightly, inclusive of $50 each for gas and electricity. This would be increased on 1 September 2017, after three months, to $120 per fortnight for both gas and electricity. The retailer said it would again review the plan on 1 December 2017. The retailer said it would stop credit collection while Ms H was on its hardship program. The retailer asked that Ms H in return seek to decrease her consumption to increase her capacity to make payments. The retailer reviewed the phone call in which Ms H said she had received poor customer service, and found that good customer service was provided. Ms H was satisfied with this outcome and the case was closed.

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