A vulnerable customer could not consent to an electricity account transfer

Getting connected and changing energy company
Case Number 2018/5538
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Ms R was unhappy that her electricity account was transferred without her consent. She received a marketing telephone call from an electricity company in December 2017 but did not agree to switch her account. She subsequently received a welcome pack in the mail but she sent this back ‘return to sender’ as she did not request it. She then became aware her account had been transferred when she received a $180 bill from the new company for the period of 8 December 2017 to 1 February 2018.

Ms R was able to transfer her account back to her previous electricity company however the other company advised it would commence debt collection activity for the $180 bill. Dissatisfied, she contacted EWOV and we raised an Assisted Referral.

The company stated that Ms R gave her explicit informed consent to the transfer so it would not waive the debt but it could offer her a payment plan. The company also advised that an attempt to retrospectively transfer Ms R’s account was denied. Unhappy with this outcome, a representative of Ms R called EWOV again and we commenced an Investigation. The representative also advised EWOV that Ms R suffers from an illness that affects her memory, language and cognitive skills. The representative believed that Ms R did not have capacity to provide consent to the transfer.

The Investigation

EWOV requested a copy of the voice recordings of the call made by the telemarketer to Ms R. We also requested copies of any customer or account notes and a copy of the bill and meter read information.

After listening to the voice recording, EWOV was concerned that some comments made by the telemarketer were unusual and potentially inappropriate. Unfortunately, only a portion of the phone call was recorded so it was difficult to determine context as it was unclear what was discussed prior to the short recorded section where Ms R appeared to verbally consent to the transfer.  EWOV also noted Ms R’s medical condition may affect her capacity to consent to the transfer. EWOV discussed these concerns with the company and it advised it does not record entire phone calls, it only records the consent portion. It also advised that it believed Ms R had clearly consented to the transfer and she needed to pay the bill on this basis. EWOV questioned whether this was fair and reasonable.

EWOV contacted three other electricity companies to find out what they would do in the same circumstances.  EWOV also asked these companies whether they recorded entire calls or just the consent portion of the call. The first company advised it would waive the final bill and would remove customer details from its database to avoid future marketing calls. The second company advised it would bill the customer on the same rates she would have received with her previous company (if they were lower) and it would apply a $50 credit as a goodwill gesture. The third company advised it would waive the final bill. All three companies advised they record sales or marketing calls from start to end, not just the consent portion.  

EWOV discussed the industry practice advice with the company involved in this complaint. It considered this advice and decided to waive the account balance

The Outcome

The company apologised for the inconvenience caused to Ms R. It placed her details on its internal ‘do not call’ register and confirmed she would not be contacted by its telemarketers again. It also suggested she put her details on the national ‘do not call’ register to avoid receiving telemarketing calls from any company. The company waived the final balance of $183.60 and closed her account. It also provided a direct contact should she receive any further bills, marketing or contact from it. Ms R was happy with this outcome and EWOV closed the complaint.

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