Hot Topic − Fair and reasonable (August 2018)

‘Fair and reasonable’ is something of a mantra at EWOV. Our Charter says that we must handle complaints in a ‘fair, reasonable, independent, economical, informal and timely way’. Our work is also guided by seven principles – the government’s Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution – which include the crucial values of fairness and impartiality. But how does EWOV put ‘fair and reasonable’ into practice to resolve complaints?

When ‘fair and reasonable’ counts

Most EWOV complaints are resolved by agreement between the customer and the company through our Assisted Referral process. EWOV doesn’t investigate these complaints or draw any conclusions about them. However, when the Assisted Referral process doesn’t resolve the issue, we open an Investigation – and that’s when ‘fair and reasonable’ comes into play.

Working out what happened

What’s fair and reasonable depends on the particular circumstances of every case, so we begin by gathering information about what happened. This includes information about any special customer circumstances that need to be taken into account, such as a customer’s health condition or low income. It also includes information about the company’s customer service performance. For example, we might consider whether the company investigated the customer’s concerns and whether they did what they said they would do.

We gather this information primarily from the customer and the company. When necessary, we also call on other relevant people (such as tradespeople or witnesses) or technical experts (such as our in-house electrical expert).

Working out what’s fair and reasonable

Once we have a clear picture of what’s happened, we look at what would be a fair and reasonable way to resolve the issue. We consider any laws and regulations that apply to the situation, consulting our specialist legal advisor if necessary. But the law is only a minimum standard. We also take into account the company’s own policies, what other energy and water companies do in similar circumstances, and practice in similar industries (like telecommunications).  We judge each complaint on its individual merits and don’t treat past cases as precedents, but we may look at the outcomes of similar EWOV cases in the past, including any relevant binding decisions.

Our conciliators also consider the opinions of others. Through informal conversation or our formal peer review process, a conciliator can gauge the views of their peers – other EWOV staff – or their managers. Finally, they might take into account the view of the ‘ordinary person on the street’ by asking a family member or friend what they think is fair in an anonymous example scenario.

How fair and reasonable helps EWOV resolve complaints

Resolving complaints is a process of negotiation between the customer and the company. EWOV conciliators use the ‘fair and reasonable’ principles and steps to help guide this negotiation process. For example, we might explain to the customer that the outcome they’re seeking is well beyond what is usually agreed in similar cases. Or we might ask the company to reconsider its resolution offer in light of the customer’s special circumstances or the best practice approach of another company. This can help the parties to break through deadlock and move towards a fair and reasonable outcome that everyone can live with.

 

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