An energy company requests a payment plan that is outside customer's financial capacity (May 2015)

Trouble paying a bill
Case Number 2015/6415
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Ms S had been making fortnightly payments of $35 towards her electricity account on a payment plan that had been in place for over a year. After a single payment instalment was missed, the energy company’s billing system automatically cancelled the payment plan and issued Ms S with a letter requesting that the payment instalments be increased to over $100 per fortnight or that the entire outstanding amount of approximately $680 be paid in full. Both of these options were outside of her financial capacity and Mrs S was seeking that her previous payment arrangement be reinstated.

Ms S was concerned that after contacting her energy company to request this, she did not receive the assistance she needed and felt that she was given incorrect information about her eligibility to apply for a Utilities Relief Grant (URG), which could offer a payment of up to $500 towards her electricity debt.

After Ms S contacted EWOV, an Assisted Referral was raised and she was contacted by a customer service representative from the energy company. She again considered that the information she received was insufficient and unhelpful, and did not resolve her issue. Ms S recontacted EWOV and the case was progressed to the Real Time Resolution team (RTR).

The Investigation

Through review of Ms S’ account, EWOV found that she was using an average of $45.08 per fortnight in electricity. Her payment plan of $35 per fortnight had not been sufficient to cover this and as a result, she had accrued a debt. It was not until a payment was missed, that the energy company had noticed that her instalments were no longer suitable and should be increased.

EWOV escalated the case to an Investigation after it was identified that the customer was facing financial hardship and may require an assessment by EWOV’s independent financial assessor.

This assessment revealed that Ms S was making higher than necessary payments towards some of her other utilities that could be reduced to allow for a higher payment towards her ongoing electricity consumption and existing debt.

Ms S indicated that she had previously been told by the energy company that she was ineligible for the URG. EWOV requested that the energy company issue URG application forms directly to Ms S for her to completed and return to the Department of Human and Health Services (DHHS), so that her eligibility could be assessed concurrent to EWOV’s Investigation. EWOV also requested that the company apply any concession discount that Ms S was entitled to, and place her on its financial hardship program where she would be provided with advice about energy efficiency and would be monitored to avoid the same issue reoccurring. 

The Outcome

After review of the customer financial circumstances, Ms S agreed to increase her fortnightly payments to $50 in order to cover her fortnightly consumption as well as gradually reduce the arrears.

EWOV confirmed that the URG application had been filled out and sent to DHHS for review. The outcome of the assessment was not known at the time of the Investigation.

Ms S was placed on the energy company’s financial assistance program and was provided with a direct contact person in the event of any changes to her financial situation.

The energy company applied a credit of $100 to her account in recognition of the customer service she had previously received. Ms S considered the matter resolved and was satisfied with the outcome.

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Payment difficulty framework for the Indigenous community

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