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Expert strata, facilities & building management services

Horror stories of ActewAGL billing practices abound

By Roger Allnutt - 29 March 2017 14

Meter Reading

How can ActewAGL continue to get away with the dubious billing practice of issuing accounts based on guesstimates? Surely the meter is there to be read so that accurate accounts can be issued.

I was alerted to this last year when, after being overseas for most of a billing period, I received a very large bill. When I queried this I was told that ActewAGL regularly issue accounts based on “estimates” of use. However, if I wanted to challenge the account I could read the meter and they would adjust.

I queried why they did not read the meter themselves and was informed that the agency contracted to do this was not employing enough readers so estimates were made supposedly based on previous use patterns. When I suggested they engage a contractor who would do the job properly and fully I was told that changing contractor would be difficult.

Since then the letters page of the Canberra Times has regularly printed correspondence detailing similar horror stories so it would appear that ActewAGL is continuing to use estimates.

Correspondents have commented on their dealings with ActewAGL staff using terms like “totally disinterested”, “useless”, “Orwellian”, “Kafkaesque”, or now “Alice in Wonderland”. One even suggested photographing your gas and electricity meters regularly and recording the dates so you have irrefutable evidence of the reading.

I would be interested in readers’ views, especially from a legal viewpoint, on whether this practice is acceptable. Personally, I regard such a practice as appalling. I cannot imagine any other business which could indulge in such behaviour and apparently get away with it.

Furthermore, as ActewAGL is partly owned by the ACT Government, which receives a dividend from it, I suggest the ACT Government should take some responsibility to ensure that concerns from residents are brought to the attention of the board of the joint venture.

What’s Your opinion?


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14 Responses to
Horror stories of ActewAGL billing practices abound
JC 4:38 pm 31 Mar 17

basil said :

So, my question is: Why are we getting conflicting information regarding process ? Are they making this stuff up on the run? And why are there “IT issues” that make estimating bills not just in 2016, but go back to 2013 and 2015 ? I was told it was due to a ‘system upgrade’ at one point. It’s laughable !

Conflicting in what sense? If you have an estimated bill it is not hard to walk out to the meter, see how wrong it is and call up and state as much. You can then insist they come and do a reading. If the reading is lower they will charge you for that reading, hence why you should 100% go out and check before calling.

As for last year Jemena had IT issues after an upgrade around mid year. It was widely reported in the media. Why you have issues going back further, no idea, but last year there was a genuine issue. Again not defending it, just stating the facts and what actions I took to rectify the issue.

basil 1:02 pm 31 Mar 17

JC said :I echo some of the sentiments about bill shock in receiving an estimated bill, but seriously if you receive one that is estimated you can ring up and ‘challenge’ it and provide your own reading.

During the course of many phone calls to them , I was at first asked to send in a photo of my meter, which I did and made certain the number of my meter was showing in the picture . On subsequent calls, I had taken more photos, offered to send them in and was told.”We don’t accept customers pics any more, we will send our own meter reader out”.

So, my question is: Why are we getting conflicting information regarding process ? Are they making this stuff up on the run? And why are there “IT issues” that make estimating bills not just in 2016, but go back to 2013 and 2015 ? I was told it was due to a ‘system upgrade’ at one point. It’s laughable !

Aldavies 7:53 pm 30 Mar 17

JC said :

I echo some of the sentiments about bill shock in receiving an estimated bill, but seriously if you receive one that is estimated you can ring up and ‘challenge’ it and provide your own reading.

Sure it shouldn’t happen, but you know time to time you know what happens. And I believe that is what happened mid last year with Jemena who is responsible for gas meter readings. They had some IT issues that meant the readings couldn’t be uploaded properly, so yeah they estimated bills. Including mine in a brand new house. It was so wrong it wasn’t funny, but a quick call put the payment date on hold until they could sort it out and provide the correct bill.

I also managed to have some fun pulling the piss out of the call centre staff asking them how the estimated bills etc. To start with it was average of previous bills over same bill cycle. Then said well its a new house, so story changed to average all all neighbours etc. I know they were just reading scripts and had no idea, which in the end I got them to admit. But overall they were good about it and I got the right bill 6 weeks later.

I’m not sure everyone enjoys ringing up ACTEW as much as you did 😉

TB 7:41 pm 30 Mar 17

So after reading this article it made sense to what happed to me as I too received shocking gas bill for 2016 that was way almost double than the previous year 2015. I cannot believe it. I rang ACTEWAGL to enquire about the overcharging fees, but was told to contact Energy for services and check up. I was also advised that turning the heating on over 18 degrees would charge more. I forgot to read the meters at the time!

dungfungus 6:16 pm 30 Mar 17

ShanePeart said :

I ran a bakery in Isaacs which moved to Hume. Actew set up the new meter for me in Hume. My old premises was empty. No electricity or phone or gas usage. Actew billed me $15000 for assumed usage. I refused to pay as luckily I had taken a photo of my meter because I knew what they were like. I had to fight them through their solicitors , send them the photos, my new lease, the cancellation of my old lease. Disconnection of my old electricity, still refused to accept that I wasn’t there. Then offered to accept 8000 as settlement. In the end I went to the Ombudsman. Just before the hearing they withdrew their account and credited me with the 1200 I had overpaid. They’re a joke. Same as Robo debt.

I thought things like that only happened to me.

Reminds me of a dispute I had with TransACT in their early days.

The same overpaid people running both “businesses”.

JC 5:00 pm 30 Mar 17

I echo some of the sentiments about bill shock in receiving an estimated bill, but seriously if you receive one that is estimated you can ring up and ‘challenge’ it and provide your own reading.

Sure it shouldn’t happen, but you know time to time you know what happens. And I believe that is what happened mid last year with Jemena who is responsible for gas meter readings. They had some IT issues that meant the readings couldn’t be uploaded properly, so yeah they estimated bills. Including mine in a brand new house. It was so wrong it wasn’t funny, but a quick call put the payment date on hold until they could sort it out and provide the correct bill.

I also managed to have some fun pulling the piss out of the call centre staff asking them how the estimated bills etc. To start with it was average of previous bills over same bill cycle. Then said well its a new house, so story changed to average all all neighbours etc. I know they were just reading scripts and had no idea, which in the end I got them to admit. But overall they were good about it and I got the right bill 6 weeks later.

JC 4:53 pm 30 Mar 17

basil said :

They are treating their customers with contempt.
Sort it out ActewAGL !!

If you are talking gas you of course mean sort it out Jemena.

Whilst ActewAGL is the owner of both the electric and gas distribution networks in the ACT, Jemena (a 25% partner in ActewAGL) still nominally maintains responsibility for the gas network including meter reading.

ShanePeart 4:41 pm 30 Mar 17

I ran a bakery in Isaacs which moved to Hume. Actew set up the new meter for me in Hume. My old premises was empty. No electricity or phone or gas usage. Actew billed me $15000 for assumed usage. I refused to pay as luckily I had taken a photo of my meter because I knew what they were like. I had to fight them through their solicitors , send them the photos, my new lease, the cancellation of my old lease. Disconnection of my old electricity, still refused to accept that I wasn’t there. Then offered to accept 8000 as settlement. In the end I went to the Ombudsman. Just before the hearing they withdrew their account and credited me with the 1200 I had overpaid. They’re a joke. Same as Robo debt.

basil 11:18 am 30 Mar 17

Please check your meters. Going by the number of letters to the paper and people I have had contact with, this outrageous billing practice is widespread. I have had ongoing issues with my account since January. Over the past six years (I keep all my paper accounts) the average gas bill for the same period was $102. this January bill for the same period was over $1000.!! I received a bill that contained an “estimated” and “actual” reading. It was far, far above what the meter actually read . Even the “actual” component was incorrect. A month later the meter was read again and their reading then agreed with mine . I eventually got a credit for part of the account.

It is time this Utility put practices in place to stop this nonsense. Either by employing more gas readers, which seems the most logical, OR extend the billing period to allow the readers to submit the data to the accounts department. I’m told that at present they only have about two days to upload the data.
They are treating their customers with contempt.
Sort it out ActewAGL !!

bryansworld 4:04 am 30 Mar 17

I had a Bill that was around $300 too high, and subsequently corrected. It was right out of kilter with my consumption patterns. This is ridiculous.

Grail 3:59 pm 29 Mar 17

Just wait until they pull the old, “your meter was improperly calibrated and is reading under by 20%. Here is an adjustment to your last three years of consumption updated with what the meter should be reading, terms net 28 days.”

Aldavies 12:31 pm 29 Mar 17

I’m pretty unimpressed too (to put it mildly). We had a gas bill ‘guesstimate’ late last year that was $1,100 and turned out to be about $500 over what we actually owed. I had to read our meter, then call them up with the correct number and they revised the bill. Then we had an electricity bill shortly after that where instead of giving us credits for our solar energy we were feeding into the grid, they charged us for it. Again about $500 over what we actually owed. Again we had to call them up, give them the meter readings and ask them to send us a new invoice. I’m starting to wonder if I can charge them with an admin fee for doing their meter reading job for them!!! (Not even joking). I regard every bill I get from them with extreme suspicion. IMHO it’s not even close to being good enough.

chewy14 12:27 pm 29 Mar 17

I think they have to physically read the meter at least once per year so it’s not like they’re guessing usage forever.

The only issue I could see would be if your usage pattern shifted dramatically from one year to another (like the holiday example in the article).

Would you prefer to pay a higher bill overall to ensure they physically read the meter every billing cycle?

wildturkeycanoe 6:14 am 29 Mar 17

Perhaps all account holders could make estimates of their bills too and make payments based on what they guess is their usage based on previous years. I wonder if ActewAGL would then send out more inspectors to make accurate readings in order to push for the account balances to be settled.

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