The vast majority of Australian households are signed up with an energy provider, whether it’s for electricity, gas or both (not many people are actually living ‘off the grid’ just yet). Most of us will usually get along fine with our energy retailer, but when a problem arises – what do you do? It can be daunting to make a complaint or challenge a bill when we’re dealing with large companies – especially utility companies, so Canstar Blue is here to walk you through your rights and what you should do when you have a complaint.
Contacting your energy retailer
The first step to resolving a dispute will usually be to get in contact with the company that sells you your energy and explain the issue directly to them. Your energy retailer is the company which buys electricity wholesale from network distributors and sells it onto you. Energy retailers are businesses which rely on customer satisfaction just like any other company and they’ll usually be more than willing to help resolve your problem. After all, if they annoy enough of their customers, they won’t have a business.
You should contact your retailer if you have an issue that pertains to the business service they’re providing you with. This includes issues such as an incorrect or missing bill, not receiving what was specified in your contract or having a bad experience with one of their service representatives.
If you decide to contact your energy retailer, you can usually do so by phone, email, regular mail or through a form or live chat on their website. In all cases, the best way to resolve your issue is to help the company help you. This means having your account details on hand, be nice and clear about what the problem is and what you’d like them to do about it, and be courteous to the customer service representatives even if it’s a particularly thorny issue. That said, be persistent with your claim and make sure you keep records of email conversations and people you speak to in case the retailer is unable or unwilling to solve your problem.
Contacting your energy distributor
If you’re encountering a physical problem with your energy supply, your port of call should be your energy distributor rather than your retailer. The distributor is the company which operates the energy infrastructure in a region, and is responsible for actually generating and distributing electricity (and gas) to homes. Distributors compete in the national energy market, but only in terms of power generation and not customers – there’s only one distributor in your local area, so you don’t have a choice over which suppliers your home.
Problems to contact your distributor about are physical supply issues such as blackouts, disconnected power or gas, a fault with your meter and so on. In the case of the distributor, follow the same strategy as you would to contact your retailer – be clear, persistent and meticulous, and try to remain courteous to make things happen as fast as possible.
If you don’t know who your energy distributor is, the Australian Energy Regulator website can help.
What if this doesn’t work?
If you’re hitting your head against a metaphorical wall, it’s time to escalate things – ask to speak with a more senior member of staff such as a customer service manager or regional manager. From there, it’s really only limited by the size of the company – send emails or a letter to the head of the customer services department or the head office – whatever it takes to elicit a helpful response.
If you’re having a serious or stalled dispute with your retailer or distributor, you can contact the energy ombudsman. An ombudsman is an independent, government-employed person who acts as an intermediary and investigator on issues between consumers and the industry. In this case, the energy ombudsman in your local area should be the person you contact. The ombudsman provides a free service to help you resolve matters such as disputed bills, faulty supply or cut-offs, poor service and many other problems.
To find your local ombudsman, you can check out the Australian Energy Regulator’s website (which also has plenty of information regarding dispute resolution). By taking the right course of action and talking to the right people, you’ll hopefully get your issue resolved quickly.