Rising power bills, bad customer service prompt rise in complaints about electricity providers


Updated

October 06, 2018 08:35:53

Ten thousand complaints were made to Queensland’s energy ombudsman last year with the majority coming from residential customers taking issue with billing and credit, Government documents reveal.

Formal complaints have increased 37 per cent in the past financial year with electricity customers distressed about rising costs, confusing deals, bad customer service and debt collection.

Key Points

  • Complaints against power companies have increased more than 30 per cent
  • The Ombudsman says the majority of complaints are over billing and credit
  • Complaints against Click Energy rose 283 per cent in one year

Click Energy was one of the most complained about with 943 complaints this year, an increase of 283 per cent.

Newer providers Energy Australia saw complaints rise 18 per cent, while Alinta received almost 470 in its first year.

Complaints against the major providers also increased with Origin up 16 per cent and AGL up 27 per cent.

The flood of complaints about retailers resulted in a 45 per cent increase in investigations being launched on behalf of consumers.

‘The daily charges kept increasing’

When Dom Grant bought a new house, he used comparison websites to find the best electricity deal.

He signed up with Click Energy but said after a couple of cycles his bills went through the roof.

“It was a really great introductory offer, but it was kind of a case where they slowly boiled the frog,” he said.

“Over time, the daily charges kept increasing.

“When you sign up for an electricity plan, you can become complacent, the bill just comes in the mail and you can get stuck in a cycle of paying it especially if you have direct debit set up,” he said.

Mr Grant said he agreed to a deal where he could pay a set monthly amount, around $100 and then settle the remaining balance at the end of the quarter when the company had read the meter.

He said he was shocked when the final amounts were around $600.

“I am not the sort of person who pours over my bills, but I started to feel like ‘oh this is really creeping up each billing cycle’,” he said.

“You try and explain it away like, ‘it was summer, I had the air conditioning on, or it was winter maybe it was the hot water’, but then you start to realise ‘oh no this is way higher than what I paid this time last year’.”

Mr Grant didn’t complain to the ombudsman but eventually changed providers, which he said was “not the most seamless experience”.

He said he then received harassing phone calls from Click Energy for months offering discounts to get him back.

“I got one yesterday. I basically hung up on them.”

Click Energy also received almost double the amount of complaints about credit issues this year and went from having just eight complaints about connections to 80.

Ian Jarrett from the Queensland Consumers Association, who is also on the advisory council for the ombudsman, is urging power companies to improve communication with their customers and make bills more transparent.

“They can do better, they really can, in terms of the service they provide to their customers as well as the price they charge,” he said.

Complaints about connections soar by 237 per cent

Energy and Water Ombudsman Jane Pires said the majority of complaints about energy providers were issues with billing and credit.

“High billing, billing errors, and estimated bills continue to be problematic for consumers, along with credit collection, payment difficulties, and disconnection and restriction,” she said.

“However, we experienced significant increases in the number of complaints about provision, transfer, marketing and customer service over the past 12 months following the introduction of digital metering which caused delays with new and existing connections.”

The number of complaints about connections across the providers soared by 237 per cent, with AGL and Origin receiving more than 420 complaints between them.

The Ombudsman said federal government change to have new meters installed by retailers instead of the distributors like Energex or Ergon has caused lengthy connections delays.

Mr Jarrett said it has been a mess.

“It hasn’t worked out, people have had major problems getting connections on time, it has just been a shambles,” he said.

He advises residents to not just focus on cost, but also consider a company’s overall service delivery.

“It is not all about how big my bill is going to be, it should be also about how quality of service am I going to get, is my bill going to be accurate, are they going to send me a bill on time,” he said.

Number of systemic issues almost double

Investigations into complaints:

  • Delays with new and existing connections with the introduction of digital meters — up 169%
  • High bills, billing errors, problems with estimated bills, rebates and concessions — up 42%
  • Debt listings, threat of debt collection, and errors in collection activity — up 17%

Source: Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman

A systemic issue is a problem that a person has with an energy supplier which affects more than one customer.

For example, a billing error that may be common to many customer bills, a billing delay caused by system errors or misleading door-to-door marketing may affect a number of people in a neighbourhood.

The number of potential systemic issues increased by 94 per cent this year.

Ms Pires said the major increases were caused with issues associated with transfer, provision, marketing and customer service.

“It may be a combination … human error, failure to have robust audit or verification processes, lack of adherence to procedures or policies, inadequate billing or IT systems, poor training, or unclear regulatory guidelines, which can all contribute to unsatisfactory performance,” she said.

The Government comparison website the ombudsman recommends is Energy Made Easy which is independent and not associated with any energy companies.

Complaints to the Energy Ombudsman

Electricity providers 2016-17 2017-18 Percentage change in complaints
Origin Energy Electricity Ltd 1,648 1,914 16%
AGL Sales (Queensland Electricity) 968 1,235 28%
Click Energy Pty Ltd 246 943 283%
Ergon Energy Qld Pty Ltd 847 864 2%
EnergyAustralia Pty Ltd 458 543 19%
Alinta Energy Retail Sales Pty Ltd NA 469 NA
ENERGEX Ltd 241 265 10%
Red Energy Pty Ltd 57 191 235%
Ergon Energy Corporation Ltd 163 142 -13%
Powerdirect Pty Ltd 244 139 -43%
Simply Energy 43 125 191%
Lumo Energy 216 57 -74%
1st Energy Pty Ltd NA  54 NA
Dodo Power & Gas Pty Ltd 59 52 -12%
QEnergy Limited 67 35 -48%
Mojo Power Pty Ltd 11 32 191%
Powershop Australia Pty Ltd 3 29 867%
Locality Planning Energy Pty Ltd 14 25 79%
Sanctuary Energy Pty Ltd 21 18 -14%
Diamond Energy Pty Ltd 9 12 33%

Source: Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman

Topics:

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business-economics-and-finance,

public-sector,

government-and-politics,

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First posted

October 06, 2018 08:11:54



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