14 April 2023

'Abysmal': Farrer residents slam Evoenergy communication as claims finally start to be processed

| Claire Fenwicke
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Evoenergy worker

An Evoenergy worker repairing lines in Canberra. Photo: Evoenergy Facebook.

Judi Barton’s husband first realised something was wrong when the power board at his feet started “sparking and smoking”.

He was working from home when an electrical surge hit the suburb of Farrer on Friday, 20 January, charging at its highest point 440 volts of electricity into the homes of three streets.

“Next thing, the USB sockets flew across the room,” Judi said.

“It blew through the surge protectors … everything that was plugged in basically got cooked.”

Residents from Gatton, Marshall and Spafford streets poured out of their homes, the power now down.

People from nearby Goodwin Village were also evacuated.

burned USB wall charger

This USB charger flew out of the wall when the electrical surge hit. Photo: Judi Barton.

Tony Hyland was another person affected.

“We were at home and about to go on a bike ride when all of our smokes alarm went off,” he said.

“We went back inside and our TV was smoking. There were popping noises all through the house.”

Those who used mobile phones received an alert from Evoenergy saying the power was out, with technicians on the way to determine the problem.

At about 4:30 pm, they were told the issue had been resolved, but everyone needed to find their own electricians to reconnect.

“So we were all scrambling around trying to find [someone] … the few sparkies still working went into overtime and we were charged accordingly,” Judi said.

“A lot of people, including us, paid for elderly neighbours or people who were away to also get reconnected.”

Now out of pocket by about $550 per household, people were told Evoenergy would reimburse the cost.

It took eight weeks for a letter about the process to arrive.

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But frustrated residents decided to go public, fed up with the entire process and lack of communication around compensation.

Locals pushed for a community meeting with Evoenergy, held on 3 April.

Judi said while the provider acted quickly setting up the meeting, she was disappointed communication had been so lax beforehand.

“The technical people [from Evo] were really good on the day [of the surge] … but beyond that, it’s just been crickets,” Judi said.

At the meeting, residents were told a failure of the “neutral line” of the nearby transformer had caused fluctuations in the network, causing the surge.

Residents had reported issues with power fluctuations in the days leading up to 20 January.

Tony said Evoenergy’s response was “abysmal”.

“It’s a classic case of a multi-million organisation crapping all over the little guys,” he said.

“The meeting should have happened two weeks after the incident … I really think they’ve wanted to ignore it, sweep it under the carpet and hope it goes away.”

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At the meeting, residents were also told about the compensation process for their damaged appliances and homes, which was that they would only be replaced at the “depreciated value” of the items.

They also had to prove the items had worked beforehand.

Judi said in some cases, that was impossible.

“That evidence doesn’t exist … people don’t have a photo being like, ‘here’s my heater being hot’,” she said.

While she appreciated the provider needed to be careful to avoid any fraudulent claims, it was frustrating the process was taking so long when it wasn’t the residents’ fault.

“By being so cautious, they’re ripping everyone off,” Judi said.

Other people are still without working fridges or heating, with some using their home and contents insurance to replace their appliances.

Tony was one of them.

“My house is only two years old, all my appliances are basically brand new, so I didn’t want to risk having them depreciated by 20 or 30 per cent,” he said.

“[Evo] has accepted no responsibility and they’ve done it to us.

“They blasted us with a power surge … fixed their asset and walked away.”

But claiming loss through insurance means people have had to pay an excess and lose their ‘no claim’ bonus.

It also doesn’t cover items that are wired into a home, such as hot water systems.

“None of the insurers will cover any electrical surge damage that wasn’t caused by lightning – which this wasn’t,” Judi said.

Murrumbidgee MLA Dr Marisa Paterson met with frustrated locals and wrote to the provider demanding answers.

“It is entirely unsatisfactory that it is three months on from the incident and many residents report that they feel there is no end in sight,” she wrote in a letter dated 13 April.

“The emotional stress and anxiety in the community is deeply concerning.”

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In a media statement, Evoenergy said it had received 70 claims for compensation, with the average claim worth about $6000.

CEO John Knox acknowledged the company needed to do better.

“I would like to apologise to customers who have been inconvenienced by this process and feel unsupported by Evoenergy,” he said.

“Our absolute priority is to get the majority of these claims finalised and paid within the week.”

Mr Knox said Evoenergy would conduct a process review to see how support for people impacted by similar incidents could be improved.

As of this afternoon (14 April), Judi said some residents had started receiving messages that their claims would be paid “in full”.

“Absolutely the best outcome. They’ve apologised and actioning quickly and fairly now,” she said.

“People power!”

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Interesting that the Goodwin complex was also evacuated.

I’d be wondering what would the results would be if the surge happened while you were going up in one of their lifts.

Any chance of becoming an astronaut ? or just end up on the roof.

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