Recurring Gas Pain: The Reissuing of Bad Bills

Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński
Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński

Over the last seven months, a lot of my energy has been taken up by a battle with my gas company. Not only have we been getting huge bills, which I was quite okay with taking on the chin, they developed an infuriating habit of reissuing bills, sometimes up to 6 months after it was originally issued.

Naturally, I was less than impressed.

Firstly, I expect that a company with remote access to my meter readings would be able to get it right the first time. If they had an issue, you’d think they would let me know that there had been an error with the meter, then fix it. Pretty simple premise, but apparently far too difficult to put into practice. In fact, it was so difficult that in two separate cases, they had to revise the bills twice, and the second time, they didn’t even send me a new invoice. Instead, they just put it on my account without telling me, making for an unpleasant surprise in the form of an unexplained “overdue amount”.

Photo: Unknown

During my time doing accounts at two different radio stations, if I had made two major errors on two different bills on the same account in less than six months, I would have been pulled aside and had it recommended to me that I consider a new career path. Three times, and I most likely would have been sacked.

Nope, apparently in the case of my gas supplier, that’s all hunky dory.

Then there was the issue of the time frame. I’m pretty reasonable and I get that mistakes get made, but there were three occasions (one while I was in the middle of the dispute in question) where bills were reissued (usually with a hike in price) more than three months later. That meant that I couldn’t check the reading on the meter, so I couldn’t effectively dispute the charges. It also meant that I couldn’t budget for them – I’d already paid the bill, and these revisions were coming out nowhere. Why were they coming back to haunt me again half a year later?

Those timeframes seem pretty unreasonable, don’t they? Well, it got worse.

A good five months into my correspondence with the company, during which I had asked the question multiple times, they told me that they didn’t have a revision policy in place. That means that there isn’t a maximum number of days between first issue and any revisions, nor a maximum number of revisions that can be issued. I was flabbergasted. Surely there must be some kind of rule in this regard to stop bills being issued with wild abandon?

ACAT logoAfter seven months of this nonsense, and after I got the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) involved to mediate in the matter, I found out that there is a rule. And it stinks.

This is a quote from my gas company about the National Energy Retail Rules as relating to re-billing, with the information confirmed by my contact at ACAT.

“An account can be re-billed at any time, however [it] cannot be charged more than 9 months period (3 billing periods) [sic].”

Thankfully, my case has been resolved – the entire disputed amount was wiped from my account, and I’m satisfied with that for now, though heaven won’t help them if they screw up again.

But now I know the current state of play in regards to re-billing, this is about more than just me.

“The National Energy Retail Rules allow the recovery of undercharges for a period up to 9 months.”

The National Energy Retail Rules regarding re-billing offer inadequate protection for consumers. Despite all these issues, I could still be re-billed for some of the invoices that were issued and corrected, anytime in the next three to six months. If they are reissued, due to the time that has passed, I can’t go back and check that their new readings are correct for that period. That could happen to anyone on their gas or electricity bill, at any time. It’s frustrating, it’s outrageous, and it’s wrong.

I’m currently gathering more information about what departments and individuals I talk to about getting this changed to a more reasonable timeframe. I feel that 30 days is the absolute maximum that is acceptable – if you can’t get your business sorted in that time, there is something seriously wrong, and your customers shouldn’t have to pay extra for your shortcomings.

I suspect this is going to be a long fight, but since I’m currently not working, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands. Once I’ve got my research together, there will be a petition, I’ll be doing my utmost to get meetings with relevant parties, and I won’t stop until these rules reflect more reasonable timeframes for consumers. Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

This isn’t over. This little gas flame has only just started to burn.

*****

Note: The name of the company I’ve been in dispute with has been left out deliberately, only because chances are that your gas or electricity company has the same lack of revisions policy. I’m gradually working my way through the list of Australian gas suppliers, but so far none of them have had a policy regarding a maximum number of days between revisions or a maximum number of revisions.

Have you ever had your gas or electricity bills revised in an untimely manner? Get in touch via the Contact page.

Advertisements

Siren Songs

Image: zen Sutherland.
Image: zen Sutherland.

I live about a block and a half from a fire station. Because we’re on a relatively busy road (not the main drag, but a street many people take to avoid it), we also get a lot of other emergency vehicles going past on the way to events elsewhere in the Inner North.

The sirens are nowhere near constant, but they aren’t entirely irregular either. They don’t wake me up when they go off at night, and they’re almost always still novel, and kind of reassuring, even after living in this house for almost 2 years. I don’t know any people who drive them, and I can’t quite tell which sound belongs to which vehicle from which service (although I am getting better at picking it). Yet strangely, they feel like home now.

Where I am currently living is as close to city living as I have ever been. I’m about to get even closer, moving into a flat closer to the CBD and the main thoroughfare in a matter of weeks.

As time ticks away to my move, I begin to wonder: am I a city person now?

I don’t think I am. I still crave being able to look up and see the stars without the glare of millions of streetlights. I still find comfort in the green paddocks that separate Canberra’s haphazard patchwork of suburbs, and I don’t mind that the middle of town doesn’t seem to have any buildings higher than about ten storeys.

But then I hear the sirens. I hear the rumbling of cars going down the avenue out the front of my house. I see the planes humming as they come into the airport. I hear the fireworks from the lake. I wander the streets and find little nooks and alleyways I hadn’t noticed before. I hear my heels clop on Civic’s tiles; I feel the cobblestones of Manuka’s back streets through the thin soles of my flats. I wander into familiar pubs and don’t see a single face I know beyond the bar staff. I taste new things. I hear new things. I read and talk and find places to hide from those whose opinions I find distasteful. I find new people when I cannot find a place to hide. I have discovered so much here, and I have found so much of myself in its grey and in its colour.

But Canberra is a safe city. Its enclaves and cliques, once infiltrated, are warm and comfortable and safe. I want to foster what I have here, but I don’t want to put down roots.

Not yet.

I want to hear more sirens. I want to hear the way the police come to your aid in other countries, the sound of panic in so many languages. I want to listen to hear if the sound of car wheels on asphalt is different in other climates, on different kinds of road.

When I go Home to visit my family, I notice the silence left by the lack of sirens. I wasn’t in this house when my parents lived on acreage, so I can’t compare that silence with the quiet they still have now they live in town. There, the only real noise is the screaming matches the neighbours engage in on a semi-regular basis, but even that can be blocked out with their fancy new roller shutters. It seems strange to be locked in by an invention made for the city in a town of just over 30,000 people.

The quiet of Home doesn’t help me sleep. I miss the drone of occasional traffic. The silence unnerves me now. It reminds me of how I want to run. It makes me want to run back to my City With The Man-Made Lake.

But I’m here now. So why am I thinking of running again, but to somewhere even grander?

I wonder if a bigger city would lull me into the land of slumber better than where I am now. More trains, more cars, more planes, more sirens. Would it be my lullaby, or the soundtrack to newfound insomnia?

I wonder when I’ll find out. I wonder how long I’ll live with it.

I know I will come back here eventually. Back to where the occasional sirens mark my safety. I will always come back to this city I have come to love.

But right now I want to chase the engine to the fire, so that I can throw my soul in and send it flying with the embers, up into the night.

Family Matters

Christmas 2007
Christmas 2007

I’ve just arrived back in Canberra after a ten day holiday with my family: mum, dad and younger sister. Half of that was spent in Dubbo in my parents’ house, the rest with extended family in Milton on the South Coast of New South Wales. To be honest, this has been one of the few times I’ve come back to Canberra wishing I was somewhere else. It’s only been three-and-a-bit hours since I saw them last, but I am already missing my family incredibly.

I’m constantly reminded just how wonderful it is and how lucky I am to have such a close and loving family. The way we all came together to mourn the passing of my grandfather back in April, the unbelievable support they’ve given me with present and future living arrangements, the career advice, the emotional support through humps in my personal life, and so much more: I’m so lucky to have them to call on when I need to.

After 27 years of marriage, my parents are still together, complete with the tendency to still be stupidly cute. They are a pillar of stability in a life that has been full of wobbles, and I’m so grateful that they’ve been there for me, time and time again.

My sister and I have a curious relationship that rocks back and forth like the world’s biggest see-saw. Sometimes she’s all cuddles and cuteness (I am always all about the cuddles); other times she wants to tear my face off (I don’t want to return the favour quite as often, but I have my moments). We live in a peculiar truce-like situation, ready to spark into a spat at a moment’s notice, but I would still do anything for a hug from her. (Except stop asking for them – she gives wonderful hugs, partly because I have to work so hard for them.)

My extended family are spread right along the Eastern states, with my mum’s family, to whom I am particularly close, all living within 8 hours drive. Most of them are in one of two towns in Western NSW. Knowing that an aunt or uncle or cousin could drop by is a nice feeling, and being so far from them most of the year sucks, especially when things are rough at either end. As my Grannie gets older, I realise that it’s also important that I get back to see her more regularly, but as I only get back to Dubbo once every four to six months or so, that’s really tricky. Seeing family is one of the reasons why I want to get my licence this year – it’s near impossible to hurry back on a 10 hour bus trip that only runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

One of the other things I’d like to do in the next year or so is live overseas. Friends of mine have gone to London, Thailand, New York and so many other wonderful places across the globe, and I want a piece of that.

But I keep coming back to one thing: how far away do I want to be from my family? Canberra is already a long way away – 5 hours by car, 5 hours and a couple of hundred dollars by plane and bus, and 10 hours by public transport. Do I really want to go any further afield? Can I even bear to be away that long, not knowing when I’ll get the chance to fly back and see them again?

Yes. I’m ready for the adventure of living in another country. But it’s all about baby steps: 7 hours of public transport to Sydney, then a 3 hour flight. I think I could do that. I’m ten hours commute away as it is, after all.

But the fact remains: it will be incredibly hard to be so far away from my family. That said, I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t go. They understand that.

And that’s another reason why I love them so bloody hard.

So every day, I count my blessings. This year, I resolve to call my family more often (I can already hear my mother whooping with joy), and write to them more, and do the best I can to spend more time in their company.

Because I have been blessed with falling into their mad lot, and you never know how long they’re going to be around for.

 

*****

IMAG0365
Inspired by a card from Ask Me A Question: 50 cards to start a conversation, from kikki.K.