Pet aversion: energy retailers in “savage dog” meter scam

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Golden Retrievers are the world's most popular therapy dogs. (Image via https://prezi.com)

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.

  • Matthew Wilson

    They don’t get paid if they don’t read your meter. The default position of no entry, savage dog, is due to the number of attacks and resultant injuries, litigation and what not. Perhaps if you kept your meters in an open location free from dogs, as is required, you’d not have this problem?

    • > “Perhaps if you kept your meters in an open location”

      Can meters be relocated?

      • Matthew Wilson

        Yes.

      • hobby farmer Girl

        Yes – at YOUR COST>

    • Sandi Keane

      So what’s the problem with reading your own meter holding up a copy of today’s newspaper as Momentum were prepared to do? Also, other people come into the property including the guy who reads the water meter, the guy who installed the new gas meter and the one who installed the Smart Meter! Anyone with half a brain can see that a Golden Retriever puppy with its tongue hanging out and tail in overdrive is hardly a threat. I don’t see people fleeing from us, screaming as they run when I take him for a walk. On the contrary, parents of very young toddlers stop to pat and cuddle him. As I said, it’s a case of using your common sense. You can’t declare all dogs “savage” unless you’ve checked them out.

      • Matthew Wilson

        Meter reading companies don’t have adequate office staff to be going through photographs. The process, software, timelines are tight and mostly automated. The reason meter readers will not enter your property if you have a dog or a sign saying you have a dog is health and safety. Meter readers are told do not enter if there is a dog, any dog, or a we have a dog sign. Good reason for it btw, I’ve seen several meter readers faces actually ripped off by friendly family pets. These poor meter readers are then left to cover and recover their own medical costs from the customer. They’re employed as contractors with specific instructions to not enter if there is a dog, any dog.

        I’ll put your question back to you: what’s wrong with you locating your meters where you are required to, by legislation? This being not behind gates, fences, with dogs, inside your house or above a spike filled pit/

        I get that you don’t approve but you’re the person failing your responsibility here, not the company.

        • April Ayres-Griffiths

          As a the proprietor of an electrical contracting business perhaps you could give people a general quote as to how much you would charge to relocate their meter?

      • Rainer the cabbie

        Yeah yeah, we’ve all heard that one before, the cute and friendly dog with the tail in overdrive…..until the owner yells “AGL, Energy Australia or the best of them all, Meter Reader.

        Watch that Retriever flex his teeth, foam at the mouth, bark like the devil.

        I’ve seen it all before, in my days as a Jehovah Witness, lucky for me I’ve turned into a Hippy, living in a house run on renewables and totally of the grid. With a nice dog for company, may I add.

    • hobby farmer Girl

      Interesting. My 5″ tall dog is behind a 6 foot fence. The metre on the open side of the house… about 15 foot from the driveway. No gate.. Nothing in front of it but the door they have to open to read it. Next excuse???

  • George B

    This happened to us around 4 years ago. But there’s a kicker: WE DON’T OWN A DOG.

    It started after receiving our 18th in-a-row bill that was an estimate. I rang the electricity company to ask why they had not done an actual reading for more than 12 months (they are required to do so) and after a number of operators was told “because there is a dog on your property”.

    So my very next call was with the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria), whereby I explained to them that we did not, nor have we ever, owned a dog. Subsequently they also explained that the electricity provider should have contacted us to explain their [phantom] dog concerns, of which they were unable to provide.

    I was able to argue the case effectively (and threaten to take the whole thing to VCAT) via which the electricity company capitulated and refunded all amounts for the 18 month period.

    An additional note: most power companies have terrible systems in place when it comes to record keeping. Thing Excel spreadsheet as “high tech”. It costs them thousands internally to deal with the Ombudsman and/or courts. If the disputed amount runs less than a few thousand dollars, and you have the time (and money) push to have the case heard at VCAT, especially if you are confident that you are in the right. More often than not the power company will reach an out-of-court settlement that should be favourable to you.

    • Sandi Keane

      Wow George! That’s quite a story. The fact that you had a “win” has made my day. I’m going to tweet this out. Let’s urge duped victims of this scam to go to VCAT!

  • Melissa Bertone

    Yep – we had the same issue, letterbox cards saying meter could not be read due to presence of dog. Very high estimates. We didn’t even HAVE a dog. Nor did previous owner.

    • Sandi Keane

      I had one Tweep tell me they didn’t have a dog either but excuse was “there was a wheelie bin in front of the meter”!

    • Sandi Keane

      I’m sharing your comment out on Twitter! Be interesting to see if any others had the same experience. George B’s story below is a cracker.

  • Denise

    I’ve been receiving estimated bills for about 7 years. When I moved to this house 9 years ago (with my 2 dogs) there was no problem with metre reading. We have electronic front gates so the meter reader would press the buzzer, I’d make sure the dogs were inside & he’d read the metre, no problem. Then about 7 years ago it stopped & they would leave a card for me to fill in and post back. Then that too stopped and they started sending bills based on estimates. About 2 months ago they wrote to me saying they needed to do a meter read & to phone them to make an appointment – which I did. They didn’t show up and I’ve not heard back from them so no doubt I’ll be receiving another estimated bill very soon.

    I only have one dog now as one passed away. The one I have left is a very old, very gentle Golden Retriever cross who loves everyone and everything -he’d take out first prize for the world’s worst watchdog.

  • Expat

    Have had the same thing happen with gas and water companies. One issued estimates based on ‘unable to gain access’ for my and neighbouring property: I work from home, my office faces the street, and I watched meter-reader *unable to find gate latch* on a waist-high gate/picket fence! He immediately walked off … I raced out and watched him do the same thing next door. When I called him out he took off. Separately, water company kept issuing increasing bills for next-door property which was unoccupied, about which they had been notified. Previously a single occupant but ‘estimates’ were based on usage of four people, because “that’s what size the house is” …

    • Sandi Keane

      “Outrageous” hardly covers it in your case. They get away with it because they know we’d have to go to VCAT. Who has the time and money to do this? Tweeting your story out.

      • Expat

        Further to Con above, when I disputed the water bills on the unoccupied house (which we owned at the time and was pending renovation) and declined to pay, my debt was immediately placed with a collection agency who harassed me 24/7. By that time *Customer Service* was onside but there was obviously no tete-a-tete with Accounts. It took many hours over many weeks to sort out and was only really, finally resolved when the property was sold and the new owner demanded the water company expunge the property account history. He’d been there before and knew what to do …

  • stuart alexander

    We live on a rural property. Since the 50’s when my dad moved out here the meter reader would turn up and everything was fine.
    Then came privatisation, and meter readings became less and less frequent. Excuses offered over the years (remember the meter is on a pole in a clear grassy paddock) have been grass too long, cow in the paddock, horse in the paddock, could be snakes, couldn’t find it, and probably others I can’t remember. The meter readers are all “subbies” these days, their pay rate is appalling and they provide their own vehicles. One told me one day they have to average one meter every five minutes to make money. This can’t be done where we are, so they don’t even try, they just make stuff up and do the easy ones. The same guy was also telling me he drove around without a windshield for three months because he couldn’t afford one. These companies are out of control, they need to be properly regulated to stop all this nonsense.

    • Sandi Keane

      Privatisation has a lot to answer for. We didn’t have this problem before then. You’re so right. I’m Tweeting your story out Stuart. No wonder the poll I saw rated energy companies more hated than BANKS!

  • Sandi Keane

    Given the responses we are getting on the thread and Twitter, is it any wonder these energy rip off merchants are hated more than BANKS??? Bring back government-owned utilities, please!

    https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jan/26/energy-giants-more-disliked-banks-guardian-icm-poll

  • con asciak

    I would have thought unless they sent you a real bill you did not have to pay it. A guess is not a real bill. It just seems to me that we have allowed them to send these bills by just paying them. If we stopped paying they would have to take us to court I would guess. I wonder if any judges could answer what they would do in their court rooms if they came accross such a case? I think any judge worth his salt would tell the utilities to send proper accounts if they want to get paid.

    • Sandi Keane

      Good point!

    • Edwin

      Do they take you to court? I thought they would just cut your power / gas, so you will come home in the dark one day.

    • Kim Bradbury

      I think they put your energy suppliers marks you down as a default on your energy account; likely affect your credit rating. Only way is proper channels.

  • Sandi Keane
  • Craig Guttridge

    Unfortunately they haven’t shared the real reason they classified your dog as dangerous. The metre readers religion does not allow them to touch a dog. So unfortunately they will still estimate your readings. This is the problem with a utility owned by overseas interests there to make money.

    • hobby farmer Girl

      Interesting thought. And which religion would that be?? Not aware of one with that particular rule in it.

  • slorter

    Privatisation of key infrastructure efficiently working for you! NOT!
    You are an astute person willing to challenge them and query! What if your a person without that attribute.
    Thanks for the article! Love the dogs!

  • Jenny Arnott

    Yes I had the same issues for years. I tried leaving a note on the gate if I was home to come to my door to no avail. I also went to the trouble of confirming the week the reading was due to take place then call the company that does the readings in our area (which is not my provider just to complicate things) and tell them over the phone to make a note that my dog would be locked up and they’d have access. This was hit and miss as to whether they still did an estimate. And I had the dog locked up from 6am until 5pm! We had a beautiful Kelpie German Shepherd cross.
    To add insult to injury the day she passed away I rang the energy company that did the readings to tell them she had died as I knew a reading was due in a few weeks. They still sent an estimate with a note “Savage dog present”. I was so upset as I’d done the right thing but took great pleasure in phoning them up to complain.

    • Sandi Keane

      Pretty obvious from all the comments that the only people getting teeth stuck into them are the hapless clients of the bloodsucking energy cos. Should be an inquiry into this.

  • CapnPants

    I would have been to the Ombudsman 4 times during your story.

  • roscoe

    we are with Origin and they have one for not reading the meter as the dog, locked gate and some other reason they could not get in, the the meter box is visible from the street, we have no dog, nor gates or even fences come to that but one of the above, it is never stated just which one is the problem, is often reason for a guesstimate, but sometimes the meter reader can get to out meter box and actually read the meter

    • Sandi Keane

      One reader reported that meter readers only have 5 mins per house so if running behind, just put a note in the letterbox. So you get the “inflated” bill. I say “inflated” since no-one has reported paying less than they should have.

  • Bighead1883

    BUGGA
    Who let these savage dogs into our country?,no not Milka,I mean the Enronesque Corps

    • Sandi Keane

      Hi ya Henry. Interesting the number of readers who don’t even have a dog! What a rort. Think of all the labour costs they save and the extra $s from inflating the bill with their “estimates”.

      • Bighead1883

        Mussolini who lead Italian Fascists for decades has this attributed to him,as to whether he actually quoted it is another question,but it`s entirely apt
        “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

        • Sandi Keane

          And that’s exactly what we have now in Australia. Donations are killing democracy.

          • Bighead1883

            How to end it is the problem Sandi
            Over 300,000 marched and told Howard No to IRAQ and they do WTF they please

  • hobby farmer Girl

    I have a problem – they do not have to go through my gate to my 6″ tall dog. They still manage to have us – with a smart metre – using MORE energy on weekends – always… Even when we are on holiday in a different state… The week days still had the same or extra power use also… I find it amazing. It makes me angry. Anyone else checked this part of their bills out??

    • Sandi Keane

      You might have to check it out with the Energy Ombudsman. Doesn’t make sense, I agree.