Electricity company gripes anticipated

Complaints about door-to-door sales and electricity bills will increase this year as power companies hike prices to pay for discounts in places where they want most of their business, industry analyst and fair-pricing campaigner Molly Melhuish says.

The Domestic Energy Users Network spokeswoman's claims followed the release to the Otago Daily Times of official figures which showed people were last year much more likely to complain about their electricity company than they were the year before.

Those Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission figures also showed people were more likely to complain about unexpectedly or unjustifiably high bills than they were to complain about how they were treated when they switched power companies.

The commission dealt with 653 electricity and gas complaints in the year to April compared with 585 the year before.

More than 470 complaints were about billing issues: the highest proportion (43%) reckoned their bills were unexpectedly high, while nearly 22% complained about bills that tried to catch up on previously inaccurate invoices.

Only 31 complaints, or fewer than 5% of all complaints, related to the process around customers switching from one power company to another.

The highest proportion (39%, or 12 complaints) were about unauthorised switches, while 23% were about switching delays.

The commission does not release details of individual complaints, and does not say which companies are involved or in which regions the complaints originate.

Ms Melhuish said the complaints may be just the tip of the iceberg - they did not include complaints made solely to power companies - and she expected the commission to get even more business this year as companies aggressively sought more, and better, market share.

She expected complainants to focus more on customer service and switching problems as companies tried to even out their books by increasing prices in areas that cost more to service to offset discounted rates offered in preferred markets.

"We will see more and more that switching becomes a zero-sum gain - consumers pay a price to switch when they are faced with higher prices and they are, in fact, having the nuisance of switching to the benefit of the companies."

Commissioner Judi Jones said there were more complaints when marketing campaigns were in full swing, but there appeared to be no link between complaints and price rises.

She expected figures next month to confirm she had more complaints in the past three months than in the corresponding period last year, partly because of more awareness of her office's work.


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