Monday, 30 March 2015

April 1 a day some Hydro One customers dread

April 1 is an important day for many people in Grey Bruce and across all of Ontario.

April 1 is the day when Hydro One starts disconnecting electrical service because of billing arrears and alleged non-payment.

It’s not a happy day.

If you don’t have any problems with your billing from Hydro One, count your blessings. If your billing is roughly the same as it has been for a while, consider yourself fortunate. That’s not the situation a lot of people in this province find themselves in.

I’ve been watching a Facebook group called “Hydro One - Enough is Enough”. It has more than fifteen thousand members. It includes people who are having billing problems with Hydro One, people who are in the process of losing their homes because they electrical bills are more than their mortgage payments and people who are just plain angry about the repeated abuse and confusion they keep getting from Hydro One with little resolution of their issues.

How bad is it?

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has been investigating the Hydro One problems for over a year. In that time he says his office has received and investigated more that 10,000 complaints, more than any other investigation his office has ever handled. Of those complaints, two thirds were related to billing. After intervention, more than 4,000 were resolved.

Common themes among the complaints were threats of disconnection for those who have missed payments; customers having to call Hydro Customer Service agents repeatedly to have their matters resolved; incorrect bills; no bills for prolonged periods of time estimated bills covering prolonged periods of time; large “catch-up” bills after a period of no bills or estimated bills; multiple bills within a short period of time, or all at once (18 bills, in one case); large amounts of money withdrawn from the bank accounts of customers with automatic payment plans, without warning; lack of clarity regarding charges/billing adjustments and confusion over processes, e.g., for overpayment refunds and credits.

It shouldn’t take the intervention of the Ombudsman, an officer of the Legislature, to fix what is, foundationally, a customer service failure. The Hydro One billing system is broken. And customers are paying a steep price.

In Belleville recently, a Hydro One customer discovered that Hydro One had confused his account with someone of the same name in Owen Sound, had not credited his account for what he had paid and demanded payment for the other person’s account. The situation was cleared up with the help of the Ombudsman’s Office, but it took months of calls.

And lest you think you are safe if your electricity comes through Westario Power, they routinely disconnect people throughout the winter, I am told.

The system is broken and needs fixing.

If you are a Hydro One customer and you have billing issues, contact the Office of the Ombudsman and ask for their help.

If you have been hit hard by high electricity bills or being threatened with disconnection, call 211 and talk to them. They can outline options about payment alternatives and work with you and Hydro One through the LEAP program.

If you are concerned about Hydro One disconnection practices, contact your MPP. While it may not have an immediate result, Hydro One is still a provincially owned corporation and our MPP’s have some responsibility to share your concerns with the Premier and the Minister responsible.

If you are served by Westario Power and you have concerns and get no satisfaction from the company itself, contact your local municipal politician. Westario is owned by the municipalities and there are municipal representatives on the Westario board.

We are not powerless. We just need to know where to direct our energy.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County