Consumers who want to make a complaint about the service provided by their electricity provider have a number of options at their disposal in seeking a resolution, with it important to have a clear understanding of what the process involves.
If a consumer decides to make a formal complaint, they should familiarise themselves with the correct procedures for doing so – and, by following these procedures, give themselves every opportunity for a positive and speedy outcome.
Of course, these types of situations will ideally not arise, and when seeking out a provider, consumers should research the range of retailers operating in their area and the types of tariffs on offer, in determining what will be the best possible deal for their household.
However, in the event that an issue does arise, being aware of how to communicate with your provider, who to contact in the event your complaint remains unresolved and understanding how the resolution process works will help ensure you explore all available options.
Entering a contract: Research the retailer and ask questions
Before entering a contract, consumers should thoroughly research the retailer they are interested in, accessing information via the retailer’s website, and also look to obtain additional information, such as consumer reviews, that may be available online.
It is also important to consider the range of tariff options available, building an understanding of how different tariffs work, and to seek out a tariff that is well suited to your household’s usage patterns.
Further to this, consumers should familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of the contract, and should ask the retailer to provide clarification about anything they may be uncertain of before signing up.
Asking such questions from the outset, and seeking to ensure that a contract matches your expectations, may well help to avoid misunderstandings and head off potential problems further down the track.
The complaints process: Complaining directly to the power company
The Electricity Authority advises that consumers who are unhappy with the service being provided by their power company, and who want to make a complaint, should directly contact the company to make the complaint.
The Electricity Authority advises:
- When calling or emailing their company, consumers should use the word “complaint”, with the company generally having 20 days to resolve the complaint.
- Should the complaint then be resolved no further action will be required by the consumer.
- If the complaint is not resolved, consumers can contact Utilities Disputes via phone or email, which provides a free and independent dispute resolution service.
Utilities Disputes: How it seeks to find an outcome
Utilities Disputes, formerly known as the Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner (with the name change reflecting changes in the utilities sector), helps resolve electricity and gas, water, and broadband shared property access disputes.
It advises that all electricity and gas distributors and retailers are required to join, with its goal being for parties to resolve complaints themselves, before they reach the end of its complaints process, with its three-step process broadly comprising facilitation, investigation and recommendation.
Utilities Disputes provides the following information about what is required for it to look into a complaint:
- It can begin looking into a complaint: made to a provider that has not been resolved 20 working days from when the consumer first complained (or 40 if the provider extended the time); when the provider has made it clear it does not intend to do anything about the complaint; or when the consumer would suffer unreasonable harm from waiting any longer for a response from the provider, or it would be otherwise unjust for the consumer to wait any longer.
- It can look into complaints concerning: electricity, piped gas, LPG in bottles 15 kg and over, and damage or problems with access to and use of land where there is electricity or gas equipment.
- It can’t look into complaints: about the price a provider sets for goods or services (however may consider whether the provider has provided appropriate price information and whether it has applied the price correctly); when more than six years have passed from the date the consumer first became aware or should reasonably have become aware of the circumstances causing the complaint; if the consumer’s resolution claim exceeds $50,000 (unless the provider agrees to extend the limit to $100,000).
There may be other reasons why Utilities Disputes cannot look into a complaint, while if it can’t look into a complaint it will refer the consumer to the right agency.
Utilities Disputes advises that it will work with the consumer and provider to find an outcome that works for both, with the process encompassing:
- Usually arranging a meeting between the consumer and provider by phone or in person, while Utilities Disputes may also pass information between the consumer and provider, and may sometimes get expert advice about legal or technical issues.
- Conciliation conferences see a Utilities Disputes conciliator facilitate a meeting with the consumer and provider, conducted via phone or in person, at which the consumer may choose to have a support person.
- The conciliator will negotiate a conference time and date with the consumer and provider, and will prepare the consumer and provider before the day, with conferences following a clear process and not recorded, allowing for a full and frank discussion, with most conferences resolving complaints during the meeting or soon after.
Utilities Disputes advises that if a complaint is not resolved, the commissioner can make a proposed recommendation, giving the consumer and provider opportunity to comment, with the proposed recommendation becoming binding if accepted by the consumer and provider. However, if either party does not accept the proposed recommendation, the consumer can submit comments.
The commissioner’s final recommendation, meanwhile, will become binding if accepted by the consumer and provider.
If the consumer doesn’t accept the final recommendation, Utilities Disputes will close the file, and the consumer may be able to take the complaint to another forum (such as the Disputes Tribunal or district court), while if the consumer accepts but the provider doesn’t, the commissioner will make a determination, meaning the provider must comply with the commissioner’s recommendation.
Code breach complaints: The process for consumers
The Electricity Authority makes and administers the Electricity Industry Participation Code 2010, which it states covers nearly every aspect of New Zealand’s electricity industry, advising that:
“The Electricity Industry Participation Code 2010 (Code) is a set of rules that govern New Zealand’s electricity industry. The code provides duties and responsibilities for people and organisations involved in the electricity industry, called industry participants.”
The Electricity Authority advises that:
- Consumers who think their power company has breached the code can make a compliant directly to their company via email or phone, specifying that they think the company has breached the code, with the company needing to promptly, thoroughly and fairly investigate the complaint and take appropriate action.
- If the complaint is resolved, the company must inform both the consumer and the Electricity Authority of the outcome, with no further action required from the consumer.
- If the complaint is not resolved, the company must also inform both the consumer and the Electricity Authority of the outcome, while the consumer can also notify the Electricity Authority that they think there has been a code breach, in which case it will assess the alleged breach and decide on the next steps.
Consumers can find further information via the Electricity Authority’s website, and can contact the Electricity Authority via email or phone for further information.
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