"I recently received a shocking letter from my electricity retailer, stating I owed a small fortune. The letter says that in 2013 my smart meter glitched out and stopped transmitting readings. My power company has sent me an invoice for more than $10,000 for unpaid electricity charges. What are my rights?"
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Your electricity retailer can’t make you foot the entire bill for a problem it should have discovered a lot sooner.
The Electricity Authority has developed minimum terms and conditions for domestic electricity contracts. These terms state companies may invoice consumers for past underpayments “but only to the extent reasonable”.
The company has to take into account whether it or the consumer contributed to the error, or could reasonably have been expected to know about it. When bills are sent more than three months late, the company should also negotiate a discount and give you a reasonable time to pay.
A comparable case to yours involved a customer that was slugged with a $5279 bill after their smart meter stopped transmitting for 31 months. It was handled by Utilities Disputes in 2016, a free service for resolving electricity complaints (as well as gas and water disputes, and sorting out access to shared property for fibre installations).
The Utilities Disputes commissioner reckoned the retailer should have known something was wrong as the meter was transmitting zero reads for an active connection over several years, and it should have done more to prevent the hefty bill.
However, the commissioner also said the customer should have realised the bills were not recording her use accurately, especially as her bills fell from $150 per month to $20.
The commissioner determined both parties bore blame, but the lion’s share fell on the retailer. It had a greater responsibility as it must ensure accurate invoices.
The commissioner recommended the retailer reduce the bill to $2000 and give the customer 31 months to pay.
Your retailer needs to front up and acknowledge its error. We think the bill should be reduced substantially and you should be given a decent amount of time to pay. If you can’t sort it out, take your case to Utilities Disputes. All electricity retailers have to belong to the scheme.
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