AS fed-up customers continue to ask when they’ll get an accurate gas bill or see a meter reader, two big players in the gas game are set to face off in court.
The irony at the core of AGL and Jemena’s court battle is what many NSW consumers are going in droves to the energy ombudsman about: meter readings.
For some consumers, difficulty in having accurate readings taken mean estimated gas bills. And finding the right time, and way to provide your own and have them accepted, is another problem.
Gas retailer AGL has launched Supreme Court proceedings against Jemena, which manages the NSW gas distribution network, alleging a failure to provide timely meter readings over the past two years for customers across the NSW.
“On Friday 12 May AGL launched court action against Jemena for its failure to provide timely meter reads over the last two years for customers in the NSW gas distribution network which Jemena manages,” an AGL spokesman told news.com.au
“As a retailer for these customers AGL knows estimated reads are frustrating for our customers.
“We’re doing this to hold Jemena accountable and encourage Jemena to improve its service.”
Jemena told news.com.au that in September last year less than 70 per cent of meter reads were being provided to market in the required time (within two days before or after the scheduled meter read). In February this year that figure was up to more than 97 per cent.
Jemena said since the end of last year the number of estimated meter reads had dropped by 25 per cent.
“Resolving metering and billing issues has been the absolute top priority for Jemena for some time,” a Jemena spokesman said.
“We are very aware that some of our customers have recently experienced difficulty and frustration over their gas bills, and we are committed to helping resolve these complex issues effectively and as soon as possible.
“We are also working closely with retailers and other industry stakeholders as part of the solution to these issues.”
A directions hearing is scheduled for May 26.
The court case comes against a background of continuing angst for NSW gas consumers over the problem of estimated bills which have seen some gas bills soar in amounts that bear no relation to the actual consumption by consumers.
Gas companies are issuing the bills based on “estimated reads” when meter readers can’t access a meter to get an “official” reading, or when self-reads aren’t submitted in time.
Jemena completes meter reads and provides meter data to energy retailers like AGL and energy Australia as part of the regulated billing process.
But last year, complaints about estimate usage billing skyrocketed, with customers — many of whom took months or years to even notice there were no official reads being taken — left out of pocket.
Some complained of increases of up to 70 per cent, and year-long disputes to have the bills sorted.
Others complained about meter readers making little effort to access meters, and that attempts to provide their own, accurate reads, were ignored.
OMBUDSMAN COMPLAINTS CONTINUE
Many turned to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW Office (EWON), which last December said it was “increasingly concerned about the number of complaints”, which in the 18 months leading up to the end of 2016 ran at between 300 and 350 a quarter.
This year the complaint levels remain the same — at the end of March they were running at 342.
For April alone, the estimated gas bills complaints figure was 77, although those figures may be an anomaly because of a large number of public holidays during April.
In its final quarterly report last year, EWON said NSW was a particular problem because of old meters, and the fact that more than the average number of homes have meters located inside their premises.
“Jemena has advised us that they are putting in place a number of measures to allow them to do actual reads in apartments and other premises where they have previously been unable to access meters,” said Ombudsman Janine Young.
“We hope to see the impact of these measures reflected in falling gas estimated billing complaints over the coming months.”
That can’t come soon enough for many consumers, like one group of residents in a Sydney apartment block of about 600, where the problems of 2017 have spilt over to 2017.
As reads were being collected — or estimated — for the first of the quarterly bills, many complained that bills were again estimated after they received a slip under their doors saying meter readers had been unable to gain access — despite the fact some residents say they were home.
Quizzed by two residents over why the meter reader had failed to knock, Jemena responded by adding a note to the customer’s files “telling the meter reader to knock in future” — a move it takes in case apartment complexes have “no knock” policies. This was not the case in these instances.
Problems with estimated bills continue. One resident complained his bill continues to climb … despite the fact he is now away for a week out of every fortnight.
RANT SUMS UP FRUSTRATIONS
One epic rant on the AGL Facebook site summed up the frustration of many about the problem.
“I am advised that it is my responsibility to provide access to my unit to have the meter read. Apparently I need to be psychic to channel the vibes from the contractor so I know when they may rock up, wrote Tracy Green on April 4..
“Unfortunately this failed again and I have another card in my mailbox explaining my responsibilities and noting I wasn’t home when they appeared. This is due to the fact I work and can’t sit at home all month waiting for the provider to miraculously appear.
“As I am moving I have rung AGL to try to arrange a time for a final read. After all, it’s my responsibility, as keeps being printed out on the cards that are left each month.
“I have been told I’m unable to do this. they will just show up when they schedule it. and it is highly unlikely I will be home (because I work) and they can’t communicate with the provider to ask them to ring me to arrange a time) … I guess we are at a stalemate.”
Perhaps a judge can sort it out.