Tuesday, June 05, 2007

the realities of dealing with heartless power companies

The Government is considering forcing electricity companies to check with welfare agencies before cutting off power, in the wake of Folole Muliagas death.

It will make no difference if it did.

As someone who used to work for a welfare agency who was in almost daily contact with power companies, I know what it is like dealing with power companies more than most. That's why I always suggested getting a food grant while paying the power bill with the money you have rather than the other way around. Food is a grant, power is an advance, which means you eventually have to pay it back.

Power companies are quick to cut off power, particularly in the winter. Their disconnection notices don't always provide the correct balance, and the balance that it does provide is not always the amount that is overdue- but the amount oweing. If the overdue amount is paid, the power is not disconnected.

However the power company demands that the money be paid there and then. Ive even had power companies demand the whole amount be paid or they will immediately disconnect, rather than just the overdue amount. If it is paid later,and the power is cut, there is a $100 reconnection fee on top. However instant payment is not always possible, even when dealing with an agency like Work and Income. That is because special needs grants are usually dealt with in the afternoon, whereas power is cut in the morning, which is another issue altogether.

Power companies do not look favourably to a request to hold off disconnecting power from the morning to the afternoon pending payment because they can't be bothered contacting the contractor. Also power companies are not favourable to requests for weekly payments by direct debit out of benefits, and if it does relent, tends to over-estimate what it thinks the direct debit payment should be to cover the debt and future payments. It takes some negotiation, normally at a senior level with the power company, to get payments down to a level that will cover payments without going overboard. Some people don't have these negotiation skills and the power companies know this. Imagine how hard it is for a Samoan woman with poor English to negotiate the waiving of a $100.00 reconnection fee so she can cook tea for the family - all because the power company was hasty in cutting off power. I've had to do it, and its not easy. It takes an hour on the phone while progressing up the seniority level. Then again, I don't always take no for an answer - particularly when the answer should be yes.

But a the end of the day it is a budgeting issue. New Zealanders are hopeless budgeters and do not like seeking assistance from welfare agencies.Folole Muliaga was one of these people - along with her family. She is dead because of it.


Nigel Kearney said...

Do they give any sort of warning before cutting it off?

There should at least be 'final demand' type letter where they say they'll cut it off on a specified day if no payment is received.

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