Power scandal exposed

An explosive investigation into the massive mistakes being made with power bills reveals serious flaws that affect nearly every electricity user.

A whistleblower has told how his power company offered to pay him off when he uncovered issues with their smart meter billing, sparking calls for a national inquiry.

Australia's Energy bosses have reason to be concerned, as one man's discoveries are about to become public knowledge.

Evidence of serious systemic billing errors affecting Australia's largest power company Origin Energy have come to light - resulting in overcharging and usage mistakes as high as 200 per cent.

When Mr Jayasooriah moved into his house, in which a time of use meter had been installed a year earlier, and received his first bill, something didn't add up.

“What they claim on the bill as a meter reading is a fake value,” Jayasooriah said.

He was alarmed to discover that instead of placing the real meter reading on his bill, Origin Energy had invented their own value, and called it ‘zero’.

“If they put a figure of zero, it does not have any relationship with the (actual) reading. There is no way i can check that they've got it right,” he explained.

This means they cannot be held accountable.

Retailers such as Origin believe this is within the law. They do it often, and few question it. Jayasooriah however is not as trusting

“If they didn't get my reading right, you would question how they got my usage right.”

With a Bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering, a Master's in digital communication, a Doctorate in computer science and a stint as a forensic software analyst, Jayasooriah is the last person a company would want ‘questioning’ their business.

But Origin had little choice, and having suspected his bills were corrupt, Jayasooriah asked the Energy Ombudsman to review them. This is when cracks began to appear for Origin.

On the 16th of April a senior investigator with the Energy Ombudsman's office emailed Jayasooriah to ‘acknowledge the possibility of error’, confirming the bill was incorrect. However when Origin tried to correct it, they couldn't.

“They have tried to bill me three times, and they have given me three different figures,” he said.

For the same period he was billed for $460.08, 442.96, and $579 – not knowing if any of the amounts were actually correct.

Nor, it seems, does Origin or the Ombudsman. And Jayasooriah has had free electricity for more than a year now as Origin has stopped billing him.

On their website Origin list as a core principle their willingness to be ‘subject to scrutiny’. Grant King is the company’s managing director. He earns a package of $4.5 million, in part, to be accountable to his 4.5 million customers. However for every interview request, Today Tonight were shown the door.

In a statement from Origin Spokesman, Ryan Auger, Origin maintained Jayasooriah had been billed "using accurate consumption data provided by his electricity distributor."

But when Jayasooriah finally got a hold of that consumption data, he uncovered information that may rock the foundations upon which our bills are constructed.

“They have given me something that is impossible to happen from a technical perspective.”

According to his calculations the company is suggesting he used more energy than he was actually supplied.

Origin claim the data comes from distributor Ausgrid. Ausgrid and Origin claim usage data is not fiddled with, and yet every time Origin issue Jayasooriah with a new bill, his usage information changes. In some cases by more than 300 per cent.

David Levy is an associate professor in electronic engineering at Sydney University. He acknowledges these mistakes could affect everyone with interval or smart meters.

“It means that there's some error in the processing or in the capturing of the data, which applies broadly to all users of such meters,” he said.

“It suggests that there is probably broader implications.”

According to Senator Nick Xenophon “this could be one of Australia's biggest consumer rip-offs, unless we sort this out, immediately.”

“If State Government doesn't do the right thing, there may be a need for a Senate inquiry at a Federal level to look at this, because this has national implications.”

In Victoria a moratorium has been placed on the rollout of smart meters because of widespread problems.

The New South Wales energy Minister Chris Hartcher is reluctant to go down that path until he gets his hands on the Ombudsman's report.

“I'm concerned that there might be some suggestion of systemic failure, and i certainly want that properly investigated,” he said.

Today Origin admitted to inaccurately billing Jayasooriah. They deny the problem is systemic, in spite of the Ombudsman's claim to have "identified a number of significant systemic issues with Origin Energy's billing.”

The Ombudsman even urges Jayasooriah to transfer retailers on the basis that Origin's systems are not designed to bill for smart meters.

Jayasooriah has been offered close to $2000 to leave Origin and go to another supplier.

“If i accept the offer we will never know why they had the billing incorrect, why they overcharged me and why they offered to pay back all the money,” he said.

“I think a big mistake was discovered and they would like to sweep it under the cover because of the financial implications of what it'll cost for them to rectify the matter.”