Are you a dog owner and fed up with getting inflated “estimated” energy bills? Two weeks ago, our editor-in-chief, Sandi Keane, discovered her therapy dog, Milka – a Golden Retriever who worked in the palliative care section of the Royal Melbourne Hospital – had been classified “savage” by Multinet. So meter readers refused to visit her property. Milka passed away but it was the same deal for McKaylee, her next Golden Retriever pup … also “savage”. Sandi reports.

ON MOVING to Melbourne seven years ago, I was shocked by energy bills four times higher than at my last address in the country. On checking, these bloated accounts were based on “estimates” from the year before — when a family of four lived in the house. I’m single.

“Savage” dog Milka, the Delta Therapy dog who worked in palliative care at the Royal Melbourne Hospital

I checked the actual reading and telephoned it through for a refund. But no, a meter reader had to come to the house and as I had a dog this was a problem. Explaining that the dog, a Golden Retriever, was a therapy dog working in palliative care at the Royal Melbourne Hospital fell on deaf ears. It also didn’t matter that, as a journo, I worked from home and could contain said dog if the meter reader knocked on the door.

Protracted, frustrating and stressful attempts to get a reading followed. When the reading was finally made some six months later, they owed me $1000s. But no refund was forthcoming. Policy was to simply credit my account! Nice little rort given they had free use of my money.

The only reason I opted for a Smart Meter was to do away with the reluctant meter reader. But the inflated gas bills remained. Requests to Red Energy, my retailer, that I photograph the readings with a copy of The Age as proof of date were refused.

Installation of solar panels in 2014 enabled me to turn the gas ducted heating off and make huge savings on the gas bill. Except it made zip difference — the bills continued to be based on the previous year. No amount of phone calls helped, including an offer by the social worker at the Royal Melbourne to vouch that my dog was friendly. Getting someone to come to the house by appointment to do a reading again took months. And again, no refund. They’d credit my account. I wondered whether the estimated bills of other dog owners likewise erred on the supplier’s side rather than the customer. Nice little earner if so.

My beloved Milka died in April 2015 and, after a couple of months, I welcomed a new Golden Retriever puppy, McKaylee, into my home. The following year, a new gas meter was installed (the plumber having no problem entering the property with McKaylee licking his knees and generally getting in his way). Joy of joys, I’d get a proper reading of the old meter before it was carted off. But for the next six months, in spite of my phone calls, not only was the “estimate” inflated by over $1000, Red Energy continued to quote the old meter number!

“Savage” dog McKaylee

At that point, I shopped around to find an energy retailer who had the nouse and respect for customer service to allow me to read the meter. Surely all that was needed was a simple photo with a copy of The Age proving the date. Momentum came to the party.

Off went the request to change retailers to Red Energy last December. And here’s the rub readers: it has taken seven months to get someone to come and read the meter to facilitate the change-over. When the plumber finally turned up (the day before the appointment), he said: “Ah, here’s the ‘savage’ dog” as McKaylee greeted him, tail in overdrive. He went on, laughing: “I’ve just come from another property where the ‘savage’ dog was a miniature poodle!”. “Ha ha” he laughed. I was agog. “Savage?,” I queried.  His explanation was that all dogs are listed by default by Multinet as “savage” on the access details to the property. So no visits are ever made. Did you, the reader, know that? I certainly didn’t. They simply do estimates which in my case were always way above the actual meter readings seen with my own eyes.

“Savage’ dog Lily at work in aged care home.

After numerous frustrating phone calls and threats to go to the Energy Ombudsman, I managed to get a semi-senior person at Multinet on the phone. She confirmed the default “savage” status for all dogs. So therapy dogs like Milka who are a valuable adjunct to traditional medical treatment happily trotting from room to room in hospitals dispensing unconditional love and a side order of unflappable optimism — are classified as “savage”. After confirming my threat to go to the Ombudsman, she agreed to change McKaylee’s status to “friendly”.

Again, did you know you could do this to get your meter read? Why are consumers kept ignorant – not only that their dog is automatically classified as “savage” – but that it could be re-classified as “friendly” — with correct meter readings as a bonus!

In the U.S., meter readers have no problem entering a premise if the dog is “friendly”. According to SoCalGas, its Rules for Dog Owners state:

‘In order to ensure a safe environment for our employees, meter readers will only enter a property if:

  • A customer and dog aren’t present together in the work area. If you are at home when the meter reader arrives, please properly confine the dog away from the work area;
  • The dog isn’t displaying aggressive behaviour; or
  • There fewer than three dogs are present.’

Judging from forums like Whirlpool, the problem in Australia is systemic, a cynical disregard for customer service. If Momentum is happy to entrust their customers to read their own meter with proof of date, what is stopping other energy retailers following suit? Or is the “savage” dog ploy a lucrative way for energy retailers to game the system? Meter reading companies like Multinet are certainly making a mint out of this. There are nearly five million dogs in Australia or close on two households in every five with a dog. Cutting visits to homes with dogs constitutes a substantial boost to the bottom line.

Meanwhile, if yours is a friendly dog, ask for it be reclassified or demand a discount in lieu of reduced labour costs. I’ll be sure to mention the latter to rival retailer Momentum if I’m to replace the official meter reader.

We’d love to hear readers’ own experiences, so please jump on the thread below to share them.

Your can read Milka’s story, ‘Dogs of Healing’, here:

You can follow Sandi on Twitter @Jarrapin

PS: Sandi received a refund of $858,43 overcharged by Red Energy on 21 July — eight months after her request to transfer to Momentum and finally getting a correct reading of the meter.

Bondi Vet: What’s better than a normal dog? A Golden Retriever of course.