A customer with financial hardship resolves her dispute with her energy retailer with the help of a financial counsellor

Trouble paying a bill
Case Number 2018/1760 and 2018/1765
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Ms X’s electricity distributor visited her property to disconnect her electricity service for non-payment. While the disconnection did not take place, Ms X followed up with her electricity retailer to find out why she was being disconnected, but was dissatisfied with the explanation she received. Ms X decided to call EWOV to seek assistance. She had an outstanding account balance of $4,700 for electricity and around $3,400 for gas with the same energy retailer. She was a single mother with four young children and was experiencing financial hardship. Ms X said that six weeks ago she and her energy retailer reached an agreement for a $50 per fortnight payment arrangement to pay off the outstanding balance. When she called them to clarify this, she told EWOV that she was advised that the payment plan was cancelled and she was unsure why.

The Investigation

Considering the circumstances of the case, EWOV decided to investigate Ms X’s case rather than seek to resolve it through an Assisted Referral. During the Investigation process, Ms X sought help from a financial counsellor to represent her in the case.

The energy retailer advised EWOV that Ms X did not have a payment arrangement with them. After getting further information from the financial counsellor representing Ms X, we confirmed that she believed that her Centrepay arrangement with Centrelink was an agreement with the energy retailer.

During our Investigation, EWOV found that Ms X contacted the energy retailer a few months before the incident to discuss her financial situation and the arrangement she had with Centrelink. However, EWOV found that the energy retailer did not sufficiently assist Ms X when it was notified of her financial hardship. We found that the energy retailer had not advised Ms X of the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS), a scheme by the Department of Health and Services which provides help to pay overdue electricity, gas, or water bills for low income Victorians experiencing temporary financial hardship. We also found that the energy retailer had not been applying applicable concessions to Ms X’s account.

With the help of the financial counsellor, EWOV also conducted an assessment into Ms X’s financial circumstances and her energy usage as part of our Investigation process. 

The Outcome

The energy retailer and Ms X agreed to a payment plan of $80-100 per fortnight over the following six months. Both parties also agreed to review Ms X’s circumstances in six months to work out if further arrangements to help Ms X pay off her outstanding balance was required. The energy retailer also sent some information to assist Ms X with her application for the URGS grant. The energy retailer confirmed that it had backdated concessions on Ms X’s account. The energy retailer also assigned Ms X’s account to be monitored and regularly reviewed by its financial hardship team. Ms X accepted the outcome and EWOV closed the case.

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Payment difficulty framework for the Indigenous community

Energy disconnection and water restriction, Trouble paying a bill, High bills