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Mistakes happen when monthly service providers upgrade their systems. Bell Mobility did it in 2004, leading to delayed bills and jammed phone lines. Enbridge and Direct Energy both did it in 2010, leading to overcharging for some customers and undercharging for others.
Marin tells of a senior from Lively, Ont., Madeleine Fex-Tinkis, who was told in July 2013 to expect a large bill. Hydro One sent her multiple bills for a total of $ 2,208 in October 2013 and said the money would be withdrawn from her bank account in two weeks, forcing her to go into her line of credit to prepare.
Then in January 2014, she received a set of 15 bills, based on actual meter readings, covering the same period and saying she owed an extra $ 540.
“It was only when we contacted Hydro One that it provided an explanation for its calculations,” says the report.
In the end, Hydro One issued her a service charge refund of $ 310.05 and set up a repayment plan for the balance – something she had asked for and not received since July. Not surprisingly, the unhappy customer removed herself from Hydro One’s preauthorized payment plan.
Lesson one: Pay bills manually during the transition period.
Most customers survive a billing system upgrade with few serious side effects. But a small group – about 10 per cent of Hydro One’s 1.3 million customers – will face delayed bills, high bills, low bills or no bills.
Don’t let a service provider dip into your bank account or post new amounts to your credit card while it installs a new billing system. Cut off your preauthorized payments until you’re sure the system works properly.
Lesson two: Don’t leave lots of cash in your bank account.
The system errors continued well into 2014. A Hydro One customer was billed more than $ 35,000 for a vacant farm, when the real amount owing was only $ 122. Another was mistakenly billed $ 20,087.64, when the real amount owing was $ 1,309.71.
Keep your savings in another account, safe from companies that should not have access to it during a failed system upgrade. Keep your savings in a separate account, so you can bar companies from getting access while they grapple with a billing system upgrade.
Lesson three: Demand a refund, paid immediately.
Marin cited the case of a widow in Killaloe, Ont., who incurred overdraft fees and other bank charges after a $ 5,500 withdrawal from her account. The ombudsman’s intervention led to a refund and a further credit of $ 660.60.
He recommends that companies develop systems to ensure that timely refunds are available when customers overpay through inadvertence or system error. Credits are not enough, since companies can withdraw very large amounts if you have a preauthorized payment plan.
Hydro One’s chief executive, Carmine Marcello, says he has fixed the billing issues and put a new team in place. But he still hasn’t revealed a set of specific and measurable customer commitments, which are still under review by the company’s new customer service advisory panel.