AGL Australia: You May Want to Sit Down |

Here’s another one that has done the rounds on the internet.  Written by John Noble, an ex-pat Brit living in Melbourne, Australia.  It is addressed to AGL, Australia’s biggest energy company after the corporation realised that it hadn’t sent Mr. Noble a bill for 18 months……

AGL Head Office
Level 22
101 Miller Street
North Sydney
NSW 2060
ref: Account number xxxx xxxx

Dear Customer Realtions,


You may want to sit down. This may come as some surprise to you.


Are you ready?


I write to you regarding a billing error.


Ha, you see, I was only joking. I imagine every letter you get must be regarding a billing error.


I shall summarise our history together for your benefit.  Some time late last year I received a disconnection notice for my property, XXXXXX Place, Melbourne.  The notice was addressed to, if I recall, “Dear Customer” at “XXXXXX Street, Melbourne”.  Someone had been kind enough to open the letter, figure out it was for me, hand write the correct address on the front, and pop it in my letterbox.  Isn’t that nice?


This notice was something of a surprise to me, but that surprise was soon overshadowed when I called you guys and you told me that I owed you something like $1900.  I forget the exact amount as I was in shock at the time and shock does strange things to the brain.


Apparently we hadn’t received a bill since early 2008.  How that came to be, I do not know.  Legend has it that you guys did some sort of upgrade to your billing system and, well, let’s just say that the word on the street is that it didn’t go so well.


These things happen though, and I took this horrific news in my stride.  I gave you $244 at the time, in exchange for which you did not disconnect me.  I appreciated that, I really did.


Since then however our relationship has been on rocky ground.  I asked you to send me a bill detailing my 18 months’, $1900 worth of charges; I explained that I’d be happy to pay the bill (as in the we-live-in-a-polite-society sense of “happy to”, not the actual emotion) over a period of time, provided that you tell me exactly what it is I am being charged for.


I haven’t received this bill.  What I have received is about sixty five separate bills for wildly varying amounts – $190 here, $45 there, $1600 the other.  I chose not to sit down and attempt to interpret this excess of information; I’d rather you do that for me, to be honest.  I have other hobbies, like photography and cycling.  But then you’d know that if you really cared.


You did call me though, earlier this year.  That was a nice gesture.  You called and said “Mr. Noble, you owe us $1900 and we’d really like it now, do you have your credit card handy?”  You really did ask for the whole $1900, just like that.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  I said, “don’t be so ludicrous, I’m not giving you that money now, let’s work out some sort of payment plan shall we?”


I hope you notice how good I’m being about this whole thing, by the way. Magnanimous, one might say: it’s probably because I’m British.


Then you said, “well how about you give us $500 a fortnight for the next 8 weeks”. You don’t send me a bill for 18 months then expect me to stump up two grand within a couple of weeks? Are you mental? Would that I had thousands of dollars knocking around the house! Perhaps I should start a rainy day fund for the next incompetent utility company that hits me with a two thousand dollar bill?


Anyway. I’ll try not to get too angry, although it’s difficult. We agreed that I’d see how much I could afford. I’m splitting this bill with my old flatmate (you didn’t realise you were involved in a ménage à trois, did you? Or that I spoke French? There’s so much you don’t know about me) so I had to talk to him about this, and while I was having that conversation someone mentioned that there might be this pesky thing called a law, or a regulation, that someone called the ombudsman makes you guys adhere to.


Do you know him, the ombudsman? He’s a bit like your dad. He loves you and tries to keep you safe but you always think he’s just trying to stop you having fun.


The ombudsman and his law say that you guys, or people like you, are only allowed to back-charge me for – sit down again, this gets good – nine months because of “something they did or did not do”. You did not send me a bill. Bingo! It also says that you need to give me at least as long in to the future to pay this bill.


Now I don’t know about you but I find it rather offensive that I had to go and find this information myself. I’d like to know why AGL did not inform me of this, my legal right and your legal obligation. Of course I called you (yeah, now I’m enjoying calling you) and told you about this and the supervisor said, “oh sir, we’re tremendously sorry, of course every AGL representative is fully aware of this nine month thing and should have duly informed you, our Valued Customer, that we could only back-bill you nine months, and it must just be a FREAK COINCIDENCE! that none of the agents you spoke to told you about this”. He did, he really said that. The f**king liar.


I’m forgiving, so I let it go. On one condition: that I receive a bill, detailing my charges back 9 months so I know what I’m paying for! That’s all I want! For the love of god, can it be that hard?


Well, evidently it can, for yesterday I received a bill, and what a shambles it is. I mean, really, it’s a disgrace. My “overdue balance” is still $1855.25. It mentions “Other Charges”, like “Unbillable Consumption Credit”. What the hell is that? It talks about an “Adjustment Note” for a “Bill Correction”. Eh? These things are credits, which you’d think I’d be happy about, but I’m not because they make no sense.


This bill has three separate readings, all of which are of type “Final”, all of which have meaningless, different values. Three final readings, all of which are different? Excellent work, AGL.


Attempting to read this bill is like watching Italian television: it doesn’t make any sense at all but for a while it’s vaguely amusing; shortly, the novelty wears off and it starts to annoy, then when the guy in the bad suit starts dancing with the opera singer and the studio turns in to a circus stage populated with gypsy midgets, you pity the wildly applauding audience and turn the telly off. It’s a rambling, incoherent mess.


I’m bored of this debacle and I want it over and done with. I’m sick of getting nonsensical correspondence from you. I could have built a tower to the moon with the amount of paper you’ve sent me. I no longer believe that I will ever receive a bill that will satisfy my pedant-like desire for accuracy; no longer trust that your organisation is competent enough to actually supply me with this information. I had hoped that someone – an actual human, no less – might take the time to sit down and personally review my bill, providing me with an accurate, concise, legible statement of the last nine months’ worth of electricity usage. It’s abundantly clear now that this is never going to happen.


Fortunately for us both, I have had an idea.


I can find a couple of useful nuggets of actual solid information on this bill I’ve been sent, and they are this: one, that my “Average cost per day” for my electricity usage is $2.72. Look at that! A tangible fact, something we can work with.


Two: that “Victorian households use on average 17kWh of electricity per day”, and that my “Average usage per day” was 17.06kWh. I’ve always harboured aspirations of being slightly above average; I never thought it would be you who confirmed them to be true.


Let’s do this. You can back-charge me nine months, and I’m counting from today. I still haven’t received a real bill so you should think yourselves lucky I’m even doing that. Nine months back from now is the 24th May 2009. The final meter reading date on this bill seems to be the 16th November 2009. Let’s keep it simple and call that 6 months. (I’m keeping it simple for you because I suspect you’re working this out with the aid of crayons and wooden blocks.)


6 months times 30 days is 180 days. 180 days times $2.72 – both my daily spend, and the Victorian average – is $489.60. Still with me?


$489 minus the $244 I’ve already given you is $245. (You see, this is deceptively simple. Why haven’t you done this already?)


$245 over the nine months you must allow me to pay is $27.22 a month, and look at that – due to some random mathematical fluke, the amount I owe you per month is exactly ten times my average cost per day! I like maths, so I find that interesting. You’re probably one of those people who thinks that it “means something”, but it doesn’t. It’s just random. You’re probably a Sagittarius, are you?


So that’s the deal. I’ll give you $27.22 a month for the next nine months if you agree never, ever to send me anything ever again. Nothing. No Christmas card, no get well card if I fall sick, nothing. Ever. You know what, if you pinky-promise never to call me again you can have the whole $245 in one go.


You might think I’m trying to do you over here, but if you think about the alternative this isn’t a bad deal for you guys. The alternative is that I drag this on for months, culminating in a meeting one rainy Tuesday afternoon in August where you, me and your dad sit down in a pokey office that smells like old cigarette smoke (I’m guessing the ombudsman isn’t flush with cash and that he looks something like Reginald Perrin) somewhere in Melbourne and your dad tells you that you’re an incompetent idiot and that you no longer have any right to any of my money. This process will cost me nothing, because I don’t have to pay myself to do this sort of thing. I do it for the love of it. On the contrary, you do have to pay people to do this sort of thing, and I reckon it’ll cost you thousands of dollars. At the very best you’ll get another couple of hundred bucks out of me. You probably have a legal obligation to your shareholders to accept my offer, when you really think about it.


Finally, may I just say to the individual reading this letter: it’s not you. This is nothing personal. I’m talking to AGL here, the hopeless entity that is this particular corporation. You personally are probably already looking for another job, and I hope you find one and move on to bigger and better things because I can’t imagine working for AGL is all that much fun.


I can barely contain my excitement in awaiting your response. Hurry, please!


Yours sincerely,


John Noble


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