Power Bill Mess

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A power bill mess has caused lots of sleepless nights and stress for one seventy-five year old widowed Adelaide pensioner.

Merle Campbell had no idea of what was going on with her power bills. Yet even though she wasn't at fault, two of our biggest energy providers demanded she sort out the problem that they themselves caused in the first place.

"How can companies like this get you in such a mess that you have to lie awake at night thinking who shall I ring next, who can help me?" says Merle.

Merle Campbell's lost count and patience at the number of phone calls she's had to make to try and sort out a mess that she didn't cause.

"I am the innocent person and I am the one waking up at night thinking who else can I ring?"

What's got seventy-five year old Merle in a spin is a power bill. But not from AGL, the energy provider she's always used and whose quarterly bills she paid on time through a bank direct debit.

"Things had been fine until I received a letter from Origin threatening to cut off my electricity if I didn't pay the account and I'm not with them."

But Origin just kept sending Merle letters demanding payment or face disconnection and their debt collectors.

"I worried about it. I started to get really stressed and I phoned them. I have spoken to numerous people at Origin and each one of them is going to fix the problem, and each one tells me if I pay them a certain amount of money for supposedly the time I was with them� it's all very confusing."

As it turns out Merle is a victim of a door-to-door sales practice known as slamming.

Nicole Rich from the consumer action law centre says what's happened to Merle is not only unfair, but unlawful.

"Slamming is when you are a customer of one company and suddenly you find yourself a customer of another and you didn't realise you were transferred over. In S.A. an energy company cannot transfer you without consent. They need explicit informed consent to transfer you to another company. If you don't even know that you've been transferred, then clearly you haven't been given explicit consent," explains Nicole.

Merle certainly didn't do that

In the end they claimed that one of the salesmen going past the house got either the name or number confused so that was the error.

Merle had already paid the $356 dollars Origin claimed was theirs to AGL and demanded she get the money back for them... well that created even more confusion.

"They sent me a letter saying look, because you suffered this stress we'll give you some discount. But they were charging me $356 and AGL were only going to pay me $300. I kept phoning AGL and asking where is this money, because I am not paying the account twice. Give me $300 and I'll pay Origin and everyone will be happy� but nothing," says Merle

With nobody listening to her and fearing she'd be cut off and have her credit rating ruined, a desperate Merle called us to help get to the bottom of it.

"It is appalling that an elderly woman has been transferred without her consent without even her knowledge to a new company and then when she complains about it she is probably going to get disconnected... that's really disgusting," says Nicole.

Nicole Rich has some advice for consumers:

"The first step is usually to call the company to make a complaint but ultimately if you don't get anywhere with the company and unfortunately that does happen, most customers do have access to an Energy Ombudsman scheme."

As for Merle, she's been turned off by the two energy giants.

"I would like AGL to send me a cheque for $300 so I can pay Origin then I 'm going to find a new provider."

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