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NSW Electricity Provider - Liability on Old Billing Clerical Error?

Discussion in 'Australian Consumer Law Forum' started by Greg D, 1 May 2015.

  1. Greg D

    Greg D Member

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    Hi, I am an advocate for my parents (pensioners) who have an issue with an electricity supplier and I am seeking advice on where we stand legally in regards to a clerical error on a bill.

    The timeline;

    * Late October 2013 bill was issued for $950
    * (Early November 2013 a single payment was made
    * (unknown to us at the time) The electricity company received a duplication of the payment
    * Late January 2014 the bill stated it was in credit, I made a phone call to question it, I asked them to double check, they said it was fine, not to worry "payment is not required"
    * Late January 2015, bill comes in, it is paid on time as per every other bill
    * (unknown to us at the time) 30th January 2015 the duplicate payment was reversed.
    * Early February 2015 I sign on to the online electricity account to work out a "pattern" of when the bills were due to find "$950 owing by February 12 2015" we had not received an invoice for this, I click on the "view bill pdf" and it shows the January 2015 bill with no mention of the $950 that is owed.
    * I call up The electricity company, they mention Australia post are to blame and I should chase them up, unable to find anyone who was experienced with this issue.
    * I have since spoken to the electricity company's complaints department numerous times and their resolutions team telling them that this is not our error, it is a business to business error created by an incompetent employee and this human error had taken far too long to correct, even after we questioned it in January 2014 and they told us that everything was fine and "no payment required." Their argument was along the lines of "we understand this is a sudden amount which may be difficult to pay so we will arrange a payment plan" then telling me that this was all that they can offer. We reached a stalemate and I am of the belief they expecting me to just roll over.
    * I have since spoken to the ombudsman and they have informed me that once again the electricity company's resolutions team will contact me, they did not give me any other information.

    So my question, in preparation of the next conversation, is there anyone with references or direct links to relevant acts and legislation like Australian Consumer Law that I can read, which will help me better understand both perspectives and if we are actually legally required to pay for their mistake or not.

    Thanks in advance
    Greg
     
  2. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member

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  3. Greg D

    Greg D Member

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    I have done some research in regards to relevant legislation, did not find much that I could interpret as being in anyway relevant to this as it is possibly a "grey area"

    Plenty of clear cut references for these type of errors internationally, or in regards to taxation BAS forms and such, but not much information available for business to customer invoicing errors of this type.

    Electricity companies cannot backdate invoices passed 9 months for unbilled usage, technically as the amount was paid at one point, and the first time the amount owing has appeared on any statement it was given the subject of; "balance carried forward" no ties on paper whatsoever to our usage, so we could probably all agree that this 9 months of undercharged usage law would have no relevance in this situation.

    There is no direct information in their Terms and Conditions that mentions anything in regards to billing errors of this type.

    There is no direct specific law that states we are obligated to pay in this situation, and there is no specific law that says that they have the wear the costs of this error, so kind of a stalemate with that argument.

    The closest I got in regards to any invoicing errors, which there is not much out there on this other than "invoicing errors must be corrected within a reasonable time frame" and my assumption is the term "reasonable time frame" can have a broad rand of interpretation, so once again, not that strong of an argument.

    Statute of limitations doesn't really apply, as the amount owing only officially appeared last week for this quarters invoice, there is still 5 years, 51 weeks before that law applies.

    According to the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010 them saying that it was fine and "no payment required" could be considered as misleading information, but, in my opinion, a weak argument.

    With the links provided by Rod, the history of complaints with the backing of the ombudsman, there were some that are kind of similar but not really, that argued a case of "poor customer service." In my case I could do the same by reminding them that, their initial failure to investigate the error, after we called to questioned it back in 2014, plus the additional 12 months before they realized the error, could be considered "poor customer service" but feels more like a cheap shot tactic that could possibly be argued off with a "my word vs theirs"

    I'll be looking at a few more sites tomorrow and what ever else I can find, but as I am no lawyer, if I have over looked something, or if I have misinterpreted anything, please correct me

    Thanks
    Greg
     
  4. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member

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    Remember that you are not being overcharged. Your parents used the electricity.

    A payment plan seems like a fair compromise.
     
  5. Greg D

    Greg D Member

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    My parents used the electricity back in 11/2013 to 01/2014, which is well over 9 months ago, so that argument is void;

    "Yes, it can issue a backbill or a catch-up bill, but there are limits on how far back it can go.
    For electricity and natural gas, a retailer can only go back nine months, from the date the customer is notified of the undercharging."
    link;
    Can the electricity or gas retailer bill me past the current period?
     

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