We were AGL customers for many years, always paying our bills on time through direct debit. Our meter is located behind a gate with a keypad entry.
We have a video intercom door bell on the outside of the gate that notifies our mobile phones no matter which country we are in.
Jemena administers the network in our area. Not once did they make any attempt to contact us, leave anything in our mail box, nor did they ever ring our door bell.
Our bills are typically $130 per quarter which we felt was reasonable as we only have one hot water heater and a gas stove.
This month we received a bill for $3536.57. On calling AGL we are told this was because AGL could not read the meter for the last 4 years and has been under estimating our usage.
I asked why AGL did not make any attempt to contact us about this issue over the last four years. I was told that they had told us on each bill they sent.
On examining the emails we receive from AGL, it is clear to me that this is a fundamental failure of process on AGL's part that is leading to a terrible customer experience. The emails AGL sends make no mention of a meter access issue. Reading the email the customer believes that everything is fine, as the bill amount varies and is given to a precision of cents. As a customer I read this email, look at the amount and that the amount is being direct debited, so I look no further. Given the issue, for the first time I follow the link to view the PDF. Again - no mention of any issue on the first page. I need to read fine print on the second page to see there is an issue with access to the meter. The fine print claims that there was no response to a door knock. This is clearly false as we record all doorbell rings using a cloud based service along with the corresponding video and audio.
If AGL cares about the customer experience, then they should have a process in place that ensures that if meter access fails for more than three consecutive bills they attempt to call the customer to notify them of the issue. Or if this is cost prohibitive for AGL, then at least send an eDM to notify the customer. AGL has clearly failed the customer here. The formatting and content of their bill emails and corresponding PDFs do everything possible to hide the issue from the consumer.
I called the call centre to resolve the issue. They had no sympathy and just become rude on the phone, repeating that we had not provided access.
AGL has failed the customer for the following reasons:
1) No process in place to avoid bill shock from failed meter access. For example, a simple and cost effective process that notifies the consumer by phone or email would avoid this.
2) Did not endeavour to explicitly alert the customer to the issue and potential consequences by phone or email. For example, reformatting the bill email to include a notification that there was an issue would avoid this.
3) Failure to appropriately deal with the customers concerns. The call centre solutions team was horrific in the way we were treated. There is clearly a quality of service issue here.
When we cancelled our service, AGL did indeed gain access to the meter to do the final reading, even though access to the meter had not changed. Clearly demonstrating that AGL could obtain access to the meter when they wanted to.
AGL, can you please advise your customers what they should do under these circumstances. We certainly don't have $3536.57 sitting in our savings account ready to pay AGL. Would you recommend that we take the matter to the ombudsman or mediation?
Even though I knew when AGL had estimated the reading, it was a nightmare to sort out. When they estimated, it was always wildly over-estimated not under.
To be fair to AGL, it's probably not their meter, nor do they read it, unless it's a smart meter which it sounds like yours isn't unless you are too far from then nearest phone tower to receive it's signals.
On each bill, next to the reading, it would have said, A: Actual reading, C: Customer reading or E: estimated reading.
Be very afraid of the E reading, it is the road to suffering and should always be rectified as soon as you see it, with your own reading....but I guess you know that now!
If you haven't got a smart meter, get one beause it takes it's own readings every day and sends them to the retailer so you should never get another estimated reading again. When it's installed make sure you photograph the last reading on the old analogue meter the day of installation and then check every reading on the bill, with what's on the meter. When it comes to readings you need to be vigilant on every bill.
As far as the Ombudsman is concerned, I wouldn't waste your time. With it's reading codes on your bill, AGL are probably legally covered and in my experience with the Ombudsman in my state is that they are toothless whimps who will get the royal runaround from AGL taking months of your life you will never get back.
As for the customer service attitude in escalations: with over a decade of dealing with them, I can tell you that around 80% of them are arrogant, rude and unhelpful. Most of the time they just make stuff up to get you off the phone and never follow up on promises of help given. And their supervisors are often even more arrogant. It's a culture at AGL which is known and tolerated by senior management and doesn't look like changing any time soon. It's the one instance where an onshore call centre is far worse than offshore. Even Manilla would be better!
You may have be able to argue the case that AGL have failed to take an actual reading at least once a year (if that is the case) because I believe they have a duty to do that as a minimum statutory requirement.
However, if the actual reading is now correct, then you used the electricity and it's chargeable Their failure to provide you with at least one actual reading per year, does not negate that fact.
Failing that, I think the best you can hope for is to come to an agreement with AGL to pay this off over a year or two without a default registered or any interest accruing.
Good luck with it.
Agree with a lot of what you are saying - the main point though is that AGL did not make a single meter reading for 4 years!
Now that in itself is something unacceptable in my view. But way is totally and utterly a failure in serving customer is that AGL did not make a single attempt over the 4 year to contact us to let us know this was the case. The escalations team confirmed this to me.
It is unreasonable to expect customers to be reading fine print on bills, or to decipher gas codes like E, A or C.
In my view, AGL has a total and catastrophic failure in process that is leading to disastrous customer experiences. A bill this size leads to serious financial hardship for customers. There is no way we will be paying this bill, nor can we afford to do so.
You might want to call the Energy Regulator and ask them if there is anything in the regulations to the effect that retailers who don't provide the minimum of one actual read per year and fail to do so for 4 years, forfeit the right to amounts above the estimated amounts.