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Consumers Seek Help On Energy Company Complaints

More Consumers Seek Help On Energy Company Complaints - And Get Speedier Resolution

More New Zealanders are taking their concerns about the service they get from their electricity and gas companies to the country's energy industry complaint authority.

By far the majority - 85 percent - of complaints and enquiries being made to the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner (EGCC) come from ordinary New Zealanders at home. Latest figures from the EGCC show that in the past year, complaints from residential customers exceeded those from businesses and other entities by more than five to one.

An increasing number of concerns are about actions by lines companies, rather than retail suppliers. Lines companies subject to investigation last year amounted to 38 percent of all EGCC files - up from 25 percent in 2005-06 and 33.3 percent in 2006-07.

The Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner's latest annual report shows that 1855 New Zealanders raised issues of concern about electricity and gas companies in the 2007-2008 financial year - 48 more than in the previous year. 92 of those concerns were sufficiently serious to warrant active investigation by the commissioner, and 88 investigations were completed and closed.

The EGCC actively investigates a complaint only after the customer and energy company have reached 'deadlock', meaning they've failed to agree how to resolve their issues within a 20 to 40 working-day period.

Causes of concern The most common cause of customer concern brought to the EGCC last year was about billing - 49.3 percent of all complainant issues. While the EGCC does not have the power to investigate the actual prices energy companies charge, it does have jurisdiction to look at whether people have received accurate information about prices or tariffs and whether these have been correctly applied.

Nine percent of complainant issues and 15 percent of investigated complaints last year related to quality of supply. Just over thirteen percent of complaints centred on people's concerns about the level of customer service they received. The number of complaints about disconnections dropped significantly; 145 complaints were received, 152 less than the previous year. Disconnection was the subject of 9.5 percent of complaints.

Fast turnaround The good news for energy consumers is that although the number of issues they're complaining about is increasing, the EGCC is dealing with them in double-quick time. Two years ago (2006-07) it took on average 165 working days to investigate and close a deadlocked file; last year, that dropped to only 76 days. Complaints commissioner Judi Jones says many issues are resolved more quickly, some of the more straightforward ones within just a few hours.

Meanwhile, the cost to the industry of having a complaint investigated has also dropped, from an average of $879 in 2006 to $830 last year.

Ms Jones says she's proud of the increased efficiency and satisfaction the EGCC is achieving on behalf of New Zealand consumers and energy companies, particularly so since the faster turnaround is being achieved while the number of staff is reducing.

'It is important, for consumers and for energy companies alike, that investigations are fast and efficient - no-one benefits from prolonged dissatisfaction,' Ms Jones said.

The EGCC also received a positive report, available next month, from a recent externally commissioned review of its complaints handling process.

More than forty of New Zealand's electricity and gas companies support the EGCC by paying a levy so their customers have access to an independent authority if they can't resolve a complaint with their energy company. The government is presently considering whether the EGCC scheme should be made mandatory for all New Zealand electricity and gas companies.


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