Energy retailers accidentally block dozens of customers


The Victoria’s Essential Services Commission has fined energy retailers for unfairly blocking dozens of customers and planning to cut another 1,500 customers in the Australian state.

The Commission discovered in December 2020 that 143 Sumo Electric and Sumo Gas customers had accidentally shut down.

In one particular case, energy retailers said they had disconnected customers who were actively involved in payment planning without warning.

The Commission also stated that an additional 142 customers were subject to service interruptions before the required six-day warning period had expired.

“This case shows the seriousness of retailers taking shortcuts and not providing assistance to their customers when providing critical services,” said Chairman Kate Simmons.

“Electricity and gas are essential services and customers should be disconnected by energy retailers only by following the correct procedure as a last resort.”

According to Simmons, the commission found that sumo had set a goal of reducing more than 1,500 customers by Christmas 2020.

“We have timed the billing process to meet the minimum regulatory requirements and reduced the time required to allow customers to seek help before disconnecting,” she said.

“After that, some customers who asked to reconnect to the energy supply waited a long time to talk to the sumo representative over the phone.”

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On September 23, 2021, a flame broke out from a household gas ring in an oven in Durham, England. (Lee Smith / Reuters)

In addition, she claimed that Sumo had pasted the name of the customer who tried to cut it off on the wall that the staff labeled the Wall of Shame.

She also said the company had established another phone queue and required employees to put customers calling for service cutoffs in that queue.

“The wait time on another call queue was long, averaging 45 minutes, and some customers hung up before talking to Sumo,” says Symons.

“Customers who are disconnected from such critical services are totally unacceptable.”

Sumo received 100 fines from the Commission in November 2021 and has been paying a $ 500,000 fine ever since.

Starting in March, the Commission has announced that energy retailers will have to pay a $ 36,348 ($ 25,912) fine notice instead of the current $ 5,000 ($ 3,564) fee.

In addition, new civil or criminal mitigation liability will take effect. Specifically, retailers’ liability is limited to $ 218,000 (US $ 155,000) for each breach and criminal fines are limited to $ 1,090,000 (US $ 777,000) or 10 years’ imprisonment for each breach.

Sumo did not immediately respond to the request for comment.

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Alfred Bui is a Melbourne-based Australian reporter with a focus on local and business news. He is a former small business owner and holds two master’s degrees in business and business law. Contact him at [email protected]

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