Not content with RORTING the power market – AGL is bullying punters who can’t pay

In our last post we had a look at how pandas have taken an interest in power prices in South Australia.  SA’s well on the path to power-price-perdition – thanks to its heavy “reliance” on intermittent, unreliable and insanely expensive wind power.

King_Kong_2005

Pay your bill – or you’ll be freezing in the dark.
Now, have a nice day

Now – energy market gorilla, AGL – has taken to bullying their customers into coughing up the cash needed to cover spiralling power bills in SA.

STT readers are aware that AGL is a big wind generator in SA and also has a heap of peaking power plants that it fires into action to cash in when its wind-watts go missing for days on end.  A very clever “business model” – at least according to the standards set by the boys from Enron.

Here’s The Advertiser on the latest techniques in “customer relations” from AGL.

Energy giant AGL accused of sending ‘obnoxious’ and heavy-handed bill messages
The Advertiser
Craig Cook
17 August 2013

ENERGY retailer AGL is being accused of making “intimidatory” and possibly illegal automated phone calls to customers just two days after missed bill payments.

The calls threaten customers with “disconnection, further charges including legal costs and a possible default listing” if they don’t pay up.

One of the company’s most senior managers, group general manager Retail Energy Stephen Mikkelsen, has conceded the calls are “obnoxious” and “too heavy-handed” and vowed to change the company’s escalation processes.

His admission to an irate customer comes as South Australian households struggle with spiralling power bills.

The Advertiser yesterday revealed more than 2660 homes had their power cut off in the first quarter of this year.

An AGL customer who received an automated call just two days after his quarterly bill was due to be paid said he felt “threatened and appalled”.

“I worry for anyone slightly less robust than me who received a call like that,’’ the customer said.

“The phone call mentions disconnection, possible legal costs and the possibility of your credit rating being damaged. These are things that can change a person’s life – it is a long way from a reasonable approach.’’

The South Australian Council of Social Service says the calls are “intimidatory”.

HEAR THE AGL REMINDER CALL NOW

The council says they may be in breach of National Energy Retail Rules.

In part the call says: “… failure to do so (pay the bill within the designated time) could result in disconnection, further charges including legal costs and a possible default listing.

“A default listing could affect your credit history and your ability to attain credit in the future …’’

“These are not empty threats,’’ SACOSS executive director Ross Womersley said.

“With something framed in an intimidatory way like that it is possible the person on the other end of the phone would have one of two reactions.

“One would be to freak out completely and, two, maybe commit to something they simply can’t afford to do.

“We strongly advise anybody who receives such a call, and had the fear of the electricity god put through them, to contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman of SA.

AGL response to recorded message:

AGL call

“This is a prime example about why retailers should not be trusted with decisions about disconnections.”

“This is a prime example about why retailers should not be trusted with decisions about disconnections.’’

A record 28,857 South Australian households were on instalment payment plans at the end of last year because they were struggling to pay their bills.  AGL, meanwhile, made a $365 million profit, or $2 million a day, in the first half of the last financial year.  AGL has 30 per cent of household electricity customers in SA and 50 per cent of gas customers.

Annual AGL residential bills in South Australia have risen over 60 per cent between 2007/08 to 2011/12.

The customer raised his concerns with Mr Mikkelsen, who is a lead candidate to succeed present AGL managing director Michael Fraser, during a lavish dinner arranged for 53 randomly-selected AGL customers in Adelaide last week.

He attended AGL’s “Customer Face 2 Face” session last Wednesday night at the Adelaide Pavillion, in the South Parklands.

Customers were selected at random from within a 4-8km radius of the venue.

They were joined by 46 AGL employees.

As a gesture of gratitude, customers were given a $50 Coles Myer Voucher, an AGL Family & Friends discount offer, and an Energy Efficiency Night Light.

“It was all very nice but I was keener to talk about my phone call,’’ the customer said.  “I played them the audio and I think it’s fair to say it left an impression with some of the AGL people hosting the event,” the customer said.

“From the looks on their faces I think the left hand of the company has no idea what the right hand is doing.’’

Since the function, the customer has received an email from Stephen Mikkelsen, group general manager retail energy at AGL, agreeing the call is “obnoxious’’ and “too heavy handed for customer only two days overdue’’.

Mr Mikkelsen responded with an email that in part reads: “As I’m sure you understand, eventually the escalation will get to the point where it lays out the consequences of not paying, but in the future this will not be until it is at least one month overdue.”

AGL says it will take another four weeks to make these changes.

Mr Mikkelsen’s email ends:

“Without feedback we find it difficult to know when we are getting it wrong. Shortly, our customers who simply missed the payment by a couple of days will have you to thank for a more friendly, less obnoxious message.’’

The customer is not convinced.

“I paid my bill in full on August 8 but on August 14 I had another communication from AGL demanding I pay my bill,’’ he said.

“And this time they said I would be charged a $14 late payment fee.  None of that did anything to improve my mood or think the company has got a grip on this matter.’’

Mr Womersley said electricity power companies were meant to offer hardship programs that include instalment plans to assist people with bill paying.

The Advertiser has contacted the Australian Energy Regulator for comment on the legality of phone calls but is yet to receive a response.

The number of SA householders on hardship programs rose from 4370 to a record 5017 last year.

Disconnections for non-payment also increased, up by 13 per cent – or more than 600 – in the 12 months to December last year.

“There was no sense from that AGL call that if you were in genuine hardship the company would be prepared to bend over backwards to support you through,” Mr Womersley added.

“You don’t even get to talk to a real human being.’’
The Advertiser

STT notes that AGL are the crowd that helped create SA’s power-price-penury in the first place.  Ah, a great bunch of lads!

But with 50,000 South Australian homes now disconnected because they can’t afford soaring power bills – and more being cut-off daily – at least there’ll be fewer power punters for AGL to bully into paying their bills – hard to charge them for sparks once they’re disconnected. These people have taken to lighting their homes with candles – and cooking on wood stoves and barbeques.

AGL hasn’t worked out how to charge for candles or firewood. Not yet – anyway ….

wood stove in camp

Mum says at least we’ll get AGL off our backs.
Apparently they haven’t cornered the firewood market, yet.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Organisations such as these should be held to account. Corporate bullies ripping off consumers, doing side deals with debt companies and putting people on the scrap heap.

  2. Blue Healer says:

    Bullying and intimidation are par for the course with this industry and its supporters. NO surprises there.

    Another Green Lie remains true to form. The sooner this industry is held to account the better for consumers, the nation and the planet. No doubt their lawyers are working overtime.

    Thanks STT for your ongoing efforts. It is making a difference.

  3. It seems to the people around Macarthur, that contempt for ordinary citizens is synonymous with the brand AGL. They’ve treated the people in this district – who are severely impacted by infrasound/low frequency noise in addition to background noise from their monster Macarthur wind factory- with similar contempt. AGL has bullied us during the panel in 2006, and continue to deny that our serious health symptoms are caused by their 140 monster turbines right next to our properties.

    In a similar manner to those ordinary citizens who are unable to pay their escalating power bills in South Australia, in a similar manner to those impacted by their wind factory at Hallett in South Australia, in a similar manner to those opposed to their coal seam gas in New South Wales – the list goes on. AGL’s behaviour and treatment of ordinary people is unforgiveable …… it will come back to bite them – but in the mean time thousands of Australians are falling victims to AGL’s bullying, and intimidatory tactics.

  4. Jim Hutson says:

    And we all thought we didn’t live in a third world banana republic where people have no democratic rights? Maybe Keating got one thing right.

  5. Jackie Rovensky says:

    Such automated calls should be made illegal. No reminder should be made for two weeks, and that should come from a real person or at the very least a text, or letter. If it’s not paid then a better customer service approach would be a call from a fully trained counsellor. They could provide advice on what programs to those people finding it difficult to pay. I am sure the profits of AGL will not suffer a great deal doing this and maybe they would receive some payments. Good caring customer service would also encourage those who are cut-off to return to them when they can get back on – but only after they have paid a re-connection fee – after all AGL would go broke if they didn’t get that.

  6. AGL is enough to make you sick!

Trackbacks

  1. […] As power prices have doubled there – some 50,000 households now go without power altogether (see our post here).  In a first world economy – this is nothing short of a […]

  2. […] STT predicts more stories like this over the coming months.  People are sick and tired of spiralling power bills or, worse, not being able to afford power at all. […]

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