By Ben Wilson
A good start to this week is that Victoria’s Essential Services Commission says it will investigate energy companies, for issuing bills based on estimates rather than meter readings.
The investigation will carry out an audit to see just how far this practice has spread.
It is important, because this is one way by which these companies have been able to squeeze more money out of customers.
Estimate pricing is not supposed to happen without the customer’s consent or when reasonable efforts to access the meter have been made. Requirements that appears to be routinely disregarded. have not been possible
Recently, the Age newspaper exposed a series of cases, where massively inflated bills have been received. The controversies around the excessive cost of energy and anger over what are often believed to be dishonest means to inflate charges, is pressuring the federal government to act.
Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has announced that the Australian Energy Market Commission will amend the National Energy Rules, so that all customers can submit photographs of their meter data, to their energy company as evidence.
It falls far short of stropping excessive charges. But at least, it does acknowledgement that there is a problem. Much more should be done and checking whether the charge is justified or not, should be taken out of the hands of the provider. The minister and his government show no wish to go in this direction, leaving the promise to help those unfairly charged looking pretty meaningless.
The investigation in Victoria at least, stands a chance of uncovering more evidence and may therefore building the momentum to push for further action. The results of the audit will be made public.
Unfortunately, the way the system is set up, all that is going to happen without a change, is that the industry will be asked to self-regulate better, which means nothing is going to change.
If it comes out that the energy companies have been improperly taking money from customers, will more be done to stop them? This is a question we all need to ask.