Wednesday, June 3, 2009

AGL breaches power industry consumer code

ELECTRICITY retailer AGL has charged hundreds of customers "security deposits" of up to $150 in breach of the power industry's consumer code.

About 2300 customers had a "deposit" incorrectly added to their bills between last November and last month, from which AGL collected $350,000.

The Essential Services Commission, which regulates the electricity industry, says the deposits breached its code because the company did not tell people they were a credit risk or give them a chance to respond.

AGL blamed "human error" for the "mistake" and had agreed to issue refunds by last Monday.

But it now admits this will take weeks because only a tiny proportion of those improperly billed have been contacted.

Commission chairman Pat Walsh said electricity and gas customers were often charged security deposits until regulations were reformed in 2004.

"It has been very uncommon for any retailer to ask for a security deposit from a residential customer since then," Dr Walsh said.

"But late last year AGL resumed the practice and in doing so it's clear that they breached a number of conditions.

"It may be a response to what (energy) retailers see as a growing level of bad debts in the residential market."

The "deposit" was billed to AGL gas and electricity customers but mostly appeared on electricity accounts.

Energy retailers are able to collect security deposits of up to $150 in limited circumstances, such as when customers have a poor credit history, but this is regulated by the commission's energy retail code.

About 70 complaints from householders charged the deposit were passed on to the commission by the SA Energy Industry Ombudsman's office.

Dr Walsh said energy companies had to "genuinely establish" customers were a bad credit risk and give them a chance to respond in order to charge the fee.

"They may already have a bad payment record or a history of leaving properties without paying their bill, and under the code that would allow a security deposit to be charged," he said.

SA Energy Industry Ombudsman Sandy Canale said he alerted the commission to the problem following "a significant number" of complaints from customers that did not appear to fit the deposit's rules. "We fairly quickly identified a trend of complaints coming into the office concerning AGL," he said.

"The code does allow retailers to take a deposit, but the conditions are very specific and the customers presenting to us did not appear to fall into those categories."

Mr Canale said his office had received about 70 complaints since the introduction of the "security deposits".

"We were concerned this fee may have been applied to other customers when it shouldn't have been," he said.

The commission and the Ombudsman worked with AGL, which supplies gas and power to more than 500,000 customers in SA, to resolve the complaints and the code breach. As a result, AGL said it would stop collecting the deposits.

"We have not banned them from doing it," Mr Walsh said. "AGL's made the decision to refund them all and they won't be collecting them again."

AGL spokesman Andrew Scannell said "human error" was to blame. "We made a mistake," he said. "It shouldn't have happened and that's why we are refunding the money."

Mr Scannell said affected customers would be contacted in writing and refunded through a credit on their next bill or by cheque.

Consumer group Choice said the issue highlighted the need for consumers to be well informed of their rights.

"A wider group of consumers will gain from the actions of a smaller group that complained," spokesman Christopher Zinn said.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

AGL just as bad in South Australia

AN elderly South Australian Housing Trust resident was so upset to receive a quarterly electricity bill for almost $4500 she ended up in hospital. Greenwith widowed pensioner Wilma Verneulem, 72, yesterday told The Advertiser she was stunned to open an account from energy provider AGL demanding $4489.71 for just three months of electricity use.

Residents in a group of six units where Mrs Verneulem has lived since 1993 said it was the final straw in a Housing Trust and electricity supplier bungle that has been ongoing for more than a decade.

An advocate for the residents, Doug Eadon, yesterday said over the years people living in the group of six units at Nellan Dare Court had received electricity bills for all of the units in one of their names.

"It is beyond a joke – Wilma was taken to the Modbury Hospital the other day with high blood pressure because of all the stress about this," Mr Eadon said.

After inquiries by The Advertiser yesterday, an AGL spokeswoman said the utility would contact Mrs Verneulem to "sincerely apologise for the incorrect high bill". She said the error was due to a "mismatch between the distributor's meters at Mrs Verneulem's property".

"As a consequence, incorrect consumption was calculated which resulted in the high bill," she said. "Due to the inconvenience caused, AGL will waive the outstanding charges."

Opposition housing spokeswoman Vickie Chapman yesterday said a State Government policy to charge tenants for an essential service without giving them independent meters caused such problems.

Housing Minister Jennifer Rankine said there would be an inspection today by Housing SA officers to "ensure the residents are happy".


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Letter to Accountant, Chaos headquarters, AGL

Dear Sir,

It sure is a long, long road to get sense out of AGL.

I am of course pleased that you have at last taken note of previous approaches from me and from the Ombudsperson and revised my gas bill to show nil owing. Progress! We still have two more baby steps to go, however.

The enclosed gas bill is addressed to "Mister Ray", despite umpteen requests to address it to "Dr John Ray". Why is that so hard to fix? If you doubt my credentials, my doctorate was awarded in 1974 by Macquarie University. Check with them.

Secondly, the bill is addressed to 2/19 Longwood St for some unknown reason. The supply is for 1/19 Longwood St and the bill should also be so addressed. Why is that so hard?

And the electricity bill also returned herewith is invalid. Your authority to charge me for supply at 2/19 Longwood St was withdrawn last year. The bill should be coming from Origin. I don't know how many times this has been raised with you but please be advised that I will not pay the bill until it comes from Origin. Work on it!

Yours amazedly


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Letter to Accountant, AGL Electricity, Brisbane

Dear Sir,

Please find returned herewith a curious collection of documents recently received from you. I think I get the point you intend to make.

Please amend your records so that my salutation is "Dr", not "Mister"

Please also note that your authority to charge me for supply at 2/19 Longwood St was withdrawn last year

Yours amazedly

Dr John Ray

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Threatening letter

TO: Energy Ombudsman

Re: AGL gas bill for 1/19 L*** St

Dear Sir,

I have written to you about this matter. I have written to AGL accounts in Brisbane. I have written to the AGL internal ombudswoman in Melbourne about this matter but all I get is the threatening letter enclosed.

To reiterate: I was recently told by AGL via you that my gas usage was too small to raise a bill but now I am told that I owe $95. My gas usage is of course unchanged at a very low level. I want the matter re-examined before I pay this bill.

Please see if you can get an intelligent response out of AGL.

Monday, July 28, 2008

TO The chief accountant, AGL

Dear Sir

I enclose an electricity bill for 2/19 L**** St which you recently sent me. Once again I draw to your attention that you are not authorized to send me that bill. The bill should be coming from Origin Energy.

I originally responded to your salesman by transferring billing authorization for flats 1, 2 and 3 to you but in view of your bungling I cancelled the authorization for flat 2 on October 31, 2007. I did so on the supplied form and within the allowed time. I enclosed with the form a letter which I have now posted online for all to view. You can view that letter here:

Your office subsequently rang me to confrm that the cancellation had been received.

To date, however, the cancellation has not been acted on. Please do so NOW!

Your serial incompetence defies belief. All I have ever asked from you is correctly made-out accounts but that seems to be quite beyond you. I have started a blog recording my letters to and about you in the desperate hope that someone there might be motivated by publicity to get your house in order. See:

Neither I nor the Energy Ombudsman have had any success with you so far.

Yours faithfully

Dr John RAY

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The confusion continues


Dear Sir,

I have received what appear to be two different gas accounts for the same premises - 1/19 L*** St. Please advise which one is correct. I enclose them.

Also please explain the amounts. I have a letter from the Energy Ombudsman dated 1 May 2008 in which he advises that my gas account was $284.28 in credit. How did I go so rapidly from credit to debit -- and why is the debit much higher than usual?

I note also that my electricity accounts still require action. Please withdraw the debit for 2/19 L*** St -- which you were not authorized to raise -- and reissue the invoice for 1/19 L*** St properly made out to me at that address. I note that I have not yet received ANY electricity bill made out to 1/19 L*** St.

I note that I have paid the electricity bill for 3/19 L*** St as it was clearly made out. Please ensure that your records show that.

You have a propensity to "lose" awkward correspondence but please do not "lose" this letter -- as you will just move your obligation to answer to the Ombudsman if you do that