Australia: 1st Energy power company fined after telemarketers sign up woman with dementia - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia1st Energy power company fined after telemarketers sign up woman with dementia

03:41  24 may  2019
03:41  24 may  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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An energy company has been fined and criticised for "human stupidity" after it wrongly signed up an elderly woman with dementia , billed her thousands of dollars, and used debt collectors to recover the money. Victoria's Essential Services Commission has issued 1 st Energy a ,000 penalty for

Joan Ford, 86, said she was living in aged care and did not operate a business, however a telemarketer from 1 st Energy still ploughed ahead and signed her up for a company electricity plan.

1st Energy power company fined after telemarketers sign up woman with dementia© Supplied: Mark Matthys Joan Ford (centre), her daughter Patricia Matthys and son-in-law Mark.

An energy company has been fined and criticised for "human stupidity" after it wrongly signed up an elderly woman with dementia, billed her thousands of dollars, and used debt collectors to recover the money.

Victoria's Essential Services Commission has issued 1st Energy a $20,000 penalty for breaching the state's energy rules and will undertake an audit into the company's operating practices.

Commission chair Ron Ben-David said the company's Victorian licence could be revoked if 1st Energy did not take steps to prevent a repeat incident.

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Last year, a 1st Energy telemarketer cold-called Joan Ford, 86, mistakenly thinking she was the account holder of a nearby business.

Mrs Ford, 86, told the consultant she was living in an aged care facility in Endeavour Hills in Melbourne's south-east and did not operate a business.

Consultant: Are you running any kind of business out here?

Mrs Ford: No business. It's actually an aged facility where I stay.

Consultant: So you don't have any kind of ABN number for yourself?

Mrs Ford: No, no.

However he took her details and signed Mrs Ford up to a 1st Energy business plan.

Mrs Ford was then sent electricity bills of more than $2,500 over a three-month period.

After the first bill arrived, 1st Energy promised to fix the problem when it was contacted by Mrs Ford's family, but a second bill then arrived followed by a phone call from a debt collection agency.

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The matter was eventually resolved after the company apologised and made a $2,000 compensation payment, Mrs Ford's son-in-law Mark Matthys said.

"It caused an untold amount of stress. She was quite distressed," Mr Matthys said.

'A case of human stupidity': commission

Dr Ben-David said the incident served as a reminder to all telemarketers to closely listen to people on the other end of the phone.

"This was not a case of human error. This was a case of human stupidity," he said.

"It was absolutely clear that Mrs Ford could not have been speaking on behalf of a nearby business."

1st Energy power company fined after telemarketers sign up woman with dementia
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Dr Ben-David said the company also failed to inform the regulator of its error, as required under the conditions of its retail licence.

"I would like to think that 1st Energy has learned the lesson and it has put in place all the necessary safeguards to ensure this can never happen again. If they haven't done that, they are playing with a loaded gun," he said.

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Energy companies put on notice

In a statement, a 1st Energy spokeswoman said customers were "at the heart of our business".

"1st Energy rectified the matter, apologised to the individual customer impacted, and took the opportunity to enhance controls across our sales partners and service teams to reduce the risk of recurrence," she said.

The company was founded in 2014 and operates in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.

Last year, the Victorian Government pledged to ban energy companies from conducting door-to-door sales or cold-calling customers.

"So many shonky energy companies are lining their pockets by ripping off ordinary Victorians," Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said at the time.

A State Government spokeswoman told the ABC work was underway to prepare legislation for reforms, but a timeline had not been set.

The proposed rules would also require companies to tell customers if they were on the cheapest available deal, after a review found seven out of 10 families were paying more than they needed to for energy.

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