A former Mercury Energy customer has got an unreserved apology after a letter from the company claimed he needed to open a new account within 7 days or his power could be cut off.

Consumer member Max switched electricity retailers this year after learning his then provider Mercury was increasing power prices at his Waikato home.

Max says he’s changed retailers before and usually been called by the company’s retention team offering a deal to stay on. “But this time, I received a letter with the bold heading ‘KEEP THE POWER ON’… threatening to disconnect me if I didn’t open a new account with them within the next 7 days.”

Mercury Energy concedes the letter was inappropriate and a mistake. It says the letter was automatically generated and its systems failed to pick up the error.

Max may not be the only customer affected. Mercury says numbers vary but it’s possible several hundred customers a month could be sent the letter after they switch retailers. It acknowledges no letter should have been sent to Max at all.

As a result of Max’s complaint, Mercury says it’s looking at the wording of the letter as well as its automated processes, it says.

“We acknowledge the confusion caused and think that the letter could be much clearer anyway to avoid someone having the experience [Max] did in thinking his power may be disconnected.”

Mercury’s explanation failed to impress Max. A computer programmer himself, he points out computers only do what they’re asked to do.

Your rights

When you switch power companies, you can expect a final bill from your old retailer. But there’s no reason for the company to contact you about anything else, least of all claiming you need to set up a new account or risk the lights going out.

If you’re unhappy with how the company has handled the switching process, you can make a complaint to Utilities Disputes, formerly the Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner. Utilities Disputes provides a free service for complaints from consumers about electricity and gas companies.

Latest figures show billing and customer service continue to be the most common cause of complaints to the office. Disconnection complaints are number three. In the 6 months to September 2016, disconnections made up 9% of all complaints, up from 5% in the previous reporting period.