| 14.01,12. 03:42 AM |
Dark days as 3000 homes lose power across the state
January 14, 2012
TWO of the state's biggest power providers disconnected 3000 more households last financial year than they did in the previous 12-month period.
A customer service review of NSW electricity retailers found AGL and Origin Energy have become more aggressive in pursuing customers with outstanding bills.
The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has promised to review energy retailers' hardship policies after disconnections for non-payment soared from 15,835 in 2009/10 to 18,651 in 2010/11.
According to IPART, 37.2 per cent of households that lost power were on payment plans, 18.5 per cent received pensioner rebates and 8.1 per cent had been cut off more than once.
"AGL and Origin Energy attributed the increase to a number of considerations including ... more active debt collection practices and increased efficiency in disconnection processes," IPART said.
"AGL, which had the highest rate of disconnection for non-payment of all electricity retailers, also had the lowest percentage of customers on payment plans."
It was also found that the call centres of Origin Energy, AGL Sales and Red Energy were less responsive than their competitors.
While most retailers said their responsiveness had improved in the past year, Origin, AGL and Red Energy admitted their call abandonment rate had increased and that more than half of all calls were not answered within 30 seconds.
While IPART determines the maximum price that can be charged for regulated electricity services in NSW, it said it had "concerns" about "the overall affordability of electricity" and the "effectiveness of hardship programs".
An Origin spokeswoman said the electricity retailer had helped an increasing number of customers in the past year.
"In all cases Origin notifies customers prior to having their supply disconnected, offers payment plans and, where the customer is experiencing financial difficulty, assistance through our customer hardship program, Power On," she said.
An AGL spokesman yesterday said: "If a customer keeps in touch with us and lets us know they are having trouble paying a bill, we can make payment arrangements available to them.
"The problem often comes when the customer does not communicate their situation to us and they do not respond to late billing notifications or other requests to contact us."