Gas invoices based on incorrect meter readings
I certainly wasn’t expecting to be spending time on Saturday, blogging about Origin Energy’s apparent tendency to invoice customers for gas they haven’t supplied.
Aaargh! In Sep 2013 I wrote a post on the frustration caused by incorrect electricity and natural gas invoices, which somehow always err on the high side. Particularly frustrating was not only that the professional meter readers could not transcribe a four digit number from the gas meter to their mobile device, but that the device software had not warned that the reading figure appeared wrong. A further problem was that Origin Energy refused to accept photographic evidence that the meter reading was wrong. The complete waste of time spent on the phone added insult to injury. One of the examples in that post was a blatantly wrong gas meter reading and resultant gas invoice (Origin Energy was the retailer) for our own office building. Fixing that invoice was a protracted, frustrating and time-wasting exercise, especially as we had vacated the building.
Move forward to 2016 and I receive a natural gas invoice from Origin Energy for my own home. I was actually looking forward to this invoice because I had received several ‘estimated’ invoices which had overestimated consumption (of course) to such an extent that on the 10th November invoice I had paid for more gas than had been used by 7th January. So I was expecting a credit. Origin had sent an SMS asking that the gate be left unlocked for 3 days so the meter could be read, so we left it open and were expecting an invoice. When it arrived this morning, I was so confident that it would be in credit, it took me several minutes to realise that I had received an invoice for $1,780.18.
So let’s look at an extract from the invoice and a photo I took of the meter.
The pictures above show:
- Invoice, claimed’actual’ meter read (11th January): 7379 m3
The (A) indicates that this is an actual reading. Clearly this is nonsense.
- Photo of meter read (7th January): 3549 m3
The same meter number can be seen in both the invoice extract and the photo ( 7763IC).
There are several problems here:
- The meter reader has made a mistake. OK, humans make mistakes, but if one of Multinet’s main roles is to read meters, it should be able to do that.
- The incorrect meter reading has not been caught by the data collection system (the calculated Summer consumption was twenty times the consumption of the last actual meter reading in July!). The system (if there is one) should have prompted the meter reader to check the reading.
- Many people who receive an incorrect overcharge like this would assume that an organisation the size of Origin Energy would be competent enough to be able to accurately bill their customers, and would pay the bill. And if it’s a final bill for that account, they are unlikely to see their money again.
- With automatic debiting of bank accounts, an error like this one could easily empty a personal bank account, causing problems with everyday living expenses.
- When I informed Origin Energy of the billing error, they were unable to accept a photograph of the meter as evidence of the error. Further, they couldn’t give a definite time that the meter could be read.
- There was no offer to hold off debiting my account while the invoice was in dispute.
- This is not a new problem for Origin Energy. For example:
- In 2008 The Sydney Morning Herald reported on ‘billing bungles’ , citing Origin Energy and AGL as the ‘main culprits‘.
- In 2012, The Advertiser reported ‘No end in sight for Origin customers’.
- Whirlpool forums have many stories of Origin Energy billing problems, such as ‘Origin – very dodgy bill received‘ from 2011.
- How about this heart-breaking tale from 2011, which illustrates frustration and anger I empathise with.
- In 2013, The Australian reported ‘Origin, AGL admit five years of double-billing‘
- Social media monitor Service Rage has classified Origin Energy posts as 96% negative and 4% positive, with billing errors a prominent theme. This resulted in the 3rd worst rating of all energy companies.
- Origin Energy earned a rating of 1.3 stars with 89% of 597 customers on Product Review, classifying Origin Energy as ‘Terrible’ (accessed 16 Jan 2016).
I could go on, but you probably get the idea by now, and Google has plenty more if your blood pressure can stand more examples.
- Deliberately deceptive invoices from companies in (e.g.) Nigeria, Russia, Eastern Europe are commonplace, and almost amusing. But we shouldn’t have to endure systemic overbilling for a decade, from a billion dollar publicly listed Australian company. Is the Executive asleep at the wheel? Does the Board of Origin Energy care about customers and the community? Do they oversee the systems in place or even look at social media? How can billing errors be so prevalent for so long. At best, this looks like negligence, and perhaps deliberating ignoring the problem. And if Origin Energy must rely on the accuracy of meter readings from others (e.g. Multinet), ask them to get their house in order.
So, if you are still reading (sorry about the length of this post), my recommendations are:
For Origin Energy
- Really look into your billing systems performance and customer satisfaction, and take urgent corrective action.
- Fix my problem (if you care, my case reference number is 708 779 3603). By the way, your call centre operator was very patient; I don’t know how they manage to deal with the frustration caused in other parts of the organisation, every working day. Thanks R.
- (with Multinet and other network service providers), implement error catching software in the meter readers mobile devices.
- Implement error detection systems in your billing engine.
- Automatically suspend bank debits of accounts in dispute.
For Energy Customers
- Check your energy bills. Don’t assume that the invoice is correct.
- Take a photo of your meter, especially if you are moving home.
- Choose retailers carefully. Do your research. It’s not all about what you see in advertisements or comparison sites which don’t compare all retailers. At some stage you will need to deal with customer service, and you as a customer will want service.
- Consider getting off natural gas all together. It will be one less energy retailer to deal with.
- Do Not give energy retailers automatic bank debit authorisation, or you could get a nasty shock at the supermaket checkout, and be asking friends for food. I know this has happened.
For Energy Regulators
- This is a hard one. If the regulators haven’t fixed the problem of misleading and deceptive billing and poor customer service, despite the volume of evidence that there is a problem, I don’t know what to recommend.