Family violence and financial hardship leads to disconnection (March 2017)

Energy disconnection and water restriction, Trouble paying a bill
Case Number 2017/5084
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

A community worker called EWOV on behalf of her client, Ms Y, whose gas had been disconnected. She said Ms Y’s Centrelink payments had stopped without her knowledge while she was in hospital for ongoing health issues. As a result, her gas account was overdue by $900. The community worker also told us that family violence was a factor in this case, and Ms Y may seek to vacate the property.

In order to resolve the issue, the community worker asked that Ms Y’s gas be reconnected, and a payment plan of $40 per fortnight be established.

EWOV immediately opted to investigate this case, skipping the usual Assisted Referral phase, because Ms Y had been disconnected, was in financial hardship, and was experiencing family violence.

The Investigation

When a customer has their energy disconnected or their water restricted, it is EWOV’s policy to arrange a same day reconnection/derestriction, so the customer is on supply while we investigate the issue. We also asked the gas company to waive any reconnection fees, suspend any debt collection activity, and have no further contact with Ms Y while the Investigation was underway. In return, the community worker agreed that Ms Y would make $40 fortnightly payments towards the overdue amount and to cover her ongoing gas usage.

We reviewed the bills, usage data, disconnection notices, contact notes, and account reconciliation associated with Ms Y’s gas account. We also considered the laws and codes that outline the disconnection process, and how to work with customers in hardship. We conducted a Wrongful Disconnection Payment assessment and found that the company had complied with the disconnection process and had made many attempts to contact Ms Y through a combination of phone calls (no voicemail available), SMSs, and letters.

Because the company was unable to contact Ms Y about the missed payments it was also unable to establish that she was in financial difficulty, or to offer her a place in its hardship program.

Ms Y was also entitled to concession, which had not been applied to her bills because Ms Y had not provided the company with her concession card details. She would also be entitled to apply for the Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS).

The Outcome

Once the company was aware of Ms Y’s circumstances, it apologised for the inconvenience the gas disconnection had caused her. It offered her a place on its hardship assistance program, and a payment plan of $40 per fortnight to cover her ongoing consumption. It confirmed that Ms Y’s community worker would be her account contact in the future.

The company said its hardship team would contact the community worker to confirm the payment plan details and arrange the energy concessions and the URGS application. The concessions and URGS would then be backdated and applied to Ms Y’s bills, going back 12 months.

Ms Y and her community worker were satisfied and the case was closed.

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