- Caroline Marcus and Rosie Squires
- The Sunday Telegraph
- June 03, 2012 12:00AM
Ray and Muriel Ryan, at home in Bowral this week, are being threatened with losing their power over a $257 bill, despite Ray being on a life-support machine. Picture: Anthony Reginato Source: The Sunday Telegraph
The oxygen machine Ray Ryan uses at his Bowral home. Source: The Daily Telegraph
POWER provider Origin/Integral has been branded “heartless and greedy” after an 85-year-old on a life-support machine was told electricity to his home would be cut if he didn’t pay his bill.
Cancer sufferer Ray Ryan, who relies on tanked oxygen to survive, and his wife, Muriel, 64, says Origin/Integral made the threat after they challenged an “abnormally high” power bill.
“Ray had been very sick, so we spent 51 days in Canberra Hospital, not even at home using energy, so I simply wanted to question the $515 bill,” Mrs Ryan said. “It was a 51 per cent increase on our last payment.”
Mrs Ryan, who paid half the bill until the “dispute” was sorted, was left stunned by a letter from Origin/Integral demanding the remaining $257 or have their power disconnected.
“They are using the fact Ray is on life-support to make us pay,” Mrs Ryan said.
A spokeswoman for the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) said legislation bans energy providers from cutting off electricity while a life-support system is in use.
She said customers had a right to request their supplier investigate a bill’s accuracy if in dispute and are urged to contact the Ombudsman.
Last week, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that EWON has recorded a 21 per cent spike in complaints from customers denied payment extensions. The utility watchdog has been inundated with complaints about high or disputed bills, with 2708 complaints in the past six months.
Mrs Ryan alleges: “They had a very threatening attitude and sent a woman to examine our house in April. She walked around trying to tell me I had left the power on appliances, which I hadn’t.
“Then we showed her Ray’s life-support machine. She knew it was there. I told the operator on Monday when I received the final notice about the life-support.”
But the energy giant defended their decision to threaten the family with cutting the power, saying Mrs Ryan hadn’t informed them of her husband’s life support machine — in writing.
“The Ryan’s account was not registered with Origin as having a life-support system. It is important that customers who rely on life support contact their retailer directly to register these important details,” a spokesman said. “We’ll continue to work with the Ryans to help them resolve this matter, and ensure our records reflect their current situation.”
The couple’s struggle is a far cry from the lives led by the heads of the energy company.
Grant King, managing director of Origin Energy, which took over Integral’s electricity retail business in March, 2011, made $4.51 million last year in remuneration and short-term benefits, a 12.5 per cent increase on the previous year.
Origin chairman Kevin McCann, 71, earned $605,000 in remuneration and short-term benefits last year, up 8.7 per cent on the previous year.