The Ontario Ombudsman has been investigating billing practices at Hydro One after receiving 10,000 complaints since April of 2013. The total surpassed anything his office had experienced in its 26 year history. In his scathing interim report, released yesterday, he found the billing practices to be deceitful and cruel and noted that Hydro One is not a private company like any other. It is a monopoly in Ontario and its interest should be serving the public, not feathering its own nest. The ombudsman found the following common themes in the Hydro One billing practices:
- Threats of disconnection for those who have missed payments although Hydro One has a policy of not cutting off power in the winter;
- Customers having to call Hydro Customer Service agents repeatedly to have their matters resolved;
- 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- Large amounts of money withdrawn from the bank accounts of customers with automatic payment plans, without warning;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;
- Confusion over processes, e.g., for overpayment refunds and credits.
- Density classification issues – residents in growing communities being billed at varying rates (e.g., people on the same street being billed at both low-density and medium-density rates).
In castigating Hydro One for its empty threat to disconnet people in the middles of Winter, Ombudsman Marin stated
It’s appalling that Hydro One threatened to disconnect power to people in one of Ontario’s worst winters on record,… We were told this was a common tactic in the industry to ‘encourage’ customers to pay, but it is cruel and deceitful. People were coming to us in tears, including families with young children and the elderly, terrified they would freeze or have to leave their homes.”
In his opening remarks, Ombudsman Marin noted that anyone who is still having problems with Hydro One can still complain to the Ombudsman who will try to resolve the matter.