Caught in a dispute with an energy provider? Here’s my story

by Chris Lang on February 7, 2011

Dispute Have you ever moved home? Then I don’t need to tell you what a hectic period that is. A thousand and one thing to take care of, to think about, to consider, discuss and decide.

It may sound very unfair, but even being very organized may not save you from mess-ups that are beyond your control. For example, connections and disconnections of utilities are always a part of moving home and mistakes made by those companies can make your life miserable, and cost you money and time to resolve.

Today I’d like to share with you a little story about a mess that wasn’t my fault, but that had to clean up nonetheless. About 2 weeks before moving home I rang my electricity and gas provider and asked them to schedule disconnection at the old address and connection at the new address. They wrote down everything, gave me a reference number for my request and left me under impression everything was in very capable hands. Impressions, impressions….

I moved home, and everything looked fine, the electricity and gas were connected, I could take hot showers and cook. But … soon after moving home I received a letter from another gas company (let’s call them company B), inviting me to open an account with them. I disregarded that letter, having no intention to change providers. A week later, another letter arrived and this time it said “Either ring us and open an account, or we’ll disconnect your gas”.

I had no idea what was going on. Here I am, on a contract with company A, and company B (which I have nothing to do with) is demanding money, holding my gas connection hostage. So I rang company B just to say there was a mistake and I don’t owe them anything. To say it didn’t go the way I expected would be an understatement.

A nice lady answered my call and explained that company B is the default provider for my area, and although I have a contract with company A, they didn’t claim billing rights for my new home in time, which means that I am at company B’s mercy, and that unless I open an account with them right away and pay for the “unauthorized usage”, my gas will be disconnected in 10 days.

I spent with her about 40 minutes trying to explain that this is the first time I hear about company B, and I can’t possibly owe money to someone I have no contract with, and that they can solve it with my provider as I am not interested in getting mixed up in disputes between 2 companies that were not my fault. All I heard was “You must open an account with us, and then you will be OK”.

Then I rang my own energy provider, company A. They admitted to a mess-up on their side, apparently the application to claim the billing rights for my new home was made late and didn’t go through correctly. Another nice lady confidently told me “Don’t worry about that, you are being misinformed by company B and you don’t have to open an account with them. We will fix everything for you, leave it to us”.

Every time someone tells me not to worry, it means that I really SHOULD worry. Two companies are telling me two different stories, who do I believe? At this point I knew that I must ring the Energy Ombudsman and ask them what the right thing to do is.

They explained everything perfectly well. I had no idea, but every house in Victoria has a default energy provider, which means a company that owns the right to supply gas and electricity to our house, unless we choose someone else. If you have moved in and didn’t schedule a connection with any company, it doesn’t mean you won’t have gas / electricity. You will be consuming gas or electricity – of your default provider. And then they will contact you and tell you to open an account with them, to pay for the usage. This happened to me because my energy provider failed to claim billing rights to my property – for whatever reason.

And then the very helpful lady at the Ombudsman office helped me open a complaint against Company B, to make sure they do not force me to sign a contract with them. She promised that they will call me in 2 days – and they did. This time I didn’t have to fight to get things done properly – they offered to transfer the billing rights to company A, confirmed that I don’t owe them anything and that the two companies will settle this between them, exactly what seemed right to me.

I guess I learned two lessons, and they are –

1. Always follow up on connections and disconnections. Just because I have gas and electricity it doesn’t mean the paperwork is in order.

2. Even the big bad energy retailers are scared of the Ombudsman a tiny little bit – just enough to make them treat customers right.

Did you ever have a dispute with an energy provider? Tell your story, leave a comment on this article.

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