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Utilities Disputes releases 2017-18 Annual Report

Free and independent complaints service, Utilities Disputes, has released its 2017-18 Annual Report, which highlights a steady number of energy complaints, and initial complaints about broadband shared property, and water.

"It’s been a busy and productive year, and we’re delighted to have established two new complaint schemes," says Board Chair, Heather Roy. "Utilities Disputes, which has been investigating electricity and gas complaints for 17 years, can now receive complaints about broadband installation on shared property (since October 2017), and Auckland water (since January 2018)."

5,528 people contacted Utilities Disputes last year - mostly about electricity or gas (5,232), followed by broadband shared property disputes (236), and water (3 complaints so far).

Of the electricity and gas complaints, 60.4% included an issue about billing (an increase from 50.7% the previous year). Complaints also included issues about customer service (39.1%), disconnections (9.7%), meter issues (9%), and supply issues (9%).

"Sudden high bills, back bills and incorrect bills are among the common issues that can cause a lot of stress, together with disconnections, surges and outages, and switching companies," says Utilities Disputes Commissioner, Nanette Moreau. "While we can’t make decisions about the price of electricity or gas, we can investigate whether bills are accurate, and whether people are on the most appropriate plan. We also look at customer service, and consider whether the communication and information provided was reasonable, for example, whether enough notice was given."

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Ms Moreau says while the overall number of complaints remained steady, a smaller number were ‘accepted for consideration’ by the Commissioner. "This is because our experienced conciliators have been working hard to resolve complaints up front, facilitating three-way teleconferences with the complainant, the company and our office. The more efficient and timely process is good for both consumers and companies."

Ms Moreau says improving awareness about Utilities Disputes, and accessibility, is a pressing priority. "Everyone has the right to complain to their company, and to bring unresolved complaints to us. Consumer surveys tell us awareness about Utilities Disputes is low. We want that to change. Our Plain English award last year recognises the beginning of a journey to become easier to reach and understand."

The number of energy complaints (accepted for consideration) by company are listed in the Annual Report. "Complaint numbers do not necessarily reflect negatively on a company," says Ms Moreau. "They can, in fact, reflect proactive customer service and effective complaint management. Customers should be informed about our service and be referred to us when appropriate."

"Complaints can lead to positive change. It’s rewarding to be part of a feedback process that enables businesses to improve their practices, and empowers consumers to make more informed choices."

See the Annual Report


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