When dealing with a product we can’t easily live without, like electricity, it’s not unreasonable to expect a high standard of service. Occasionally, however, you may find your expectations unmet. So, what can you do when your energy service is not up to scratch?

It’s in your provider’s interest to resolve disputes quickly.

If you are unhappy with your energy retailer for any reason, it’s in that retailer’s interest to resolve the problem to the best of its ability, whilst being respectful and sympathetic to your situation – after all, you’re a paying customer. If it happens that paying a bill becomes especially difficult, your retailer is also required by law to take reasonable steps to help you make payments, as this page from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) explains.

Despite it being in the retailer’s interest to have happy customers, a report from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) shows there is an increasing number of customers making complaints to their respective retailer. So, if you have a problem, where should you start?

How to respond

The first step is to try to negotiate with the retailer directly. Most are large organisations, making it difficult sometimes to reach the right person and receive useful information. Try to clearly explain the problem and be ready to describe what you think is wrong with the current outcome, and what should be changed for a satisfying result. This can take considerable time, and frustration levels on both ends of the phone line can become high. Try to remain calm and accept that call centre operators may have limited ability to solve every problem, and any issue may need to be referred to one or more other departments to finalise a solution.

Further action

If resolution attempts with the retailer have failed, there are still several courses of action which may be taken. The AER have their own dispute resolution department who may be able to help with connection issues at the retail level. It’s important to fully understand the rights consumers have before taking further action, and a full list of rights and responsibilities can be found in each Australian state with appropriate state or territory-based authorities.

State/territory energy departments

These websites provide a run-down of what various contracts mean, how they affect the rights of customers, and the responsibilities of retailers in delivering utilities.

Australian Capital Territory: Department of Environment and sustainable development directorate
New South Wales: NSW Department of Industry
Northern Territory: Department of Resources – Minerals and Energy
Queensland: Department of Energy
South Australia: Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure
Tasmania: Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources
Victoria: Department of state Development, Business and Innovation – Energy and Earth Resources
Western Australia: Department of Finance – Public Utilities Office

Energy Ombudsmen

If early dispute resolution attempts have been unsuccessful, each state has an Ombudsman responsible for protecting consumers and small business in dealing with energy related problems.

Find the right website for your state here:

The Ombudsman services are provided free of charge and are an attempt to keep small matters out of court by resolving them without recourse to the legal system. Consumers have the right to pursue other legal action at their own expense through the usual civil actions in the courts.

Still not happy? Switch!

Most disputes can be resolved by simply talking to the retailer directly, though finding the right person to talk to may take some time. However, if you feel your service just isn’t up to scratch, there are plenty of other providers who will be more than happy to provide your energy, start by comparing retailers to find which is right for you.