A direct debit error leaves a customer unable to pay rent (July 2017)

Billing mistakes
Case Number 2017/6442
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Ms S, who was on a disability pension, said that her former retailer had direct debited around $150 from her bank account in February 2017, even though she had closed her electricity account with it in December 2015. As a result of the direct debit, Ms S was unable to pay her rent, causing her significant distress. Ms S contacted EWOV seeking a refund of the debited amount as well as $590 in recognition of the error – equivalent to the amount of the two week rental payment she had missed. 

EWOV raised an Assisted Referral and the company contacted Ms S on the same day. They immediately reversed the direct debit but did not offer any customer service credit. Ms S was dissatisfied and EWOV opened an Investigation.

The Investigation

Reviewing Ms S’s account, the energy company explained that billing had continued from December 2015 to March 2017. Billing was for zero until November 2016, when the retailer changed its billing system and began applying daily supply charges to accounts with no consumption. While its first few attempts to direct debit these charges were declined, in February 2017 it successfully debited the full $145.49 that had accumulated on Ms S’s account.

The energy company said it had no record of Ms S contacting it to close her account, and when Ms S asked her phone company to review her mobile phone call history, it had no record of a call to the energy company. However, in response to further enquiries from EWOV’s Conciliator, the energy company acknowledged that the property owner had subsequently asked for the meter to be abolished. The meter was abolished in April 2016, and the energy company agreed that it should have closed Ms S’s account at that time.

Noting that concessions had not been applied to Ms S’s account during 2015, the energy company offered to apply them retrospectively, resulting in an additional refund of $103.66. However, it did not accept Ms S’s request for compensation, and Ms S remained dissatisfied with the company’s offer.

Ms S also felt that when the company had called to discuss her concerns, it had been dismissive and provided poor customer service. After reviewing the call recording, EWOV’s Conciliator agreed with the customer that the customer service manner had been objectively poor. 

To progress the case, EWOV investigated whether the energy company’s offer was in line with industry practice by asking three other energy companies what they would do to resolve a similar complaint.  All three companies said that in addition to reversing the charges and applying the concessions, they would offer a $100 customer service credit in recognition of poor service.

The Outcome

In light of this advice about industry practice, Ms S’s energy company agreed to offer a $100 customer service credit in addition to the concession refund of $103.77 and the earlier refund of the direct debited charges. The customer accepted this resolution and the case was closed.

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