Hydro One billing problems an Ontario-wide concern

ONTARIO—Islanders, and Ontarians in general, will finally have their Hydro One billing complaints addressed thanks to Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin’s announcement last week that he will be conducting an investigation into complaints of billing and customer service problems with Hydro One.

“The investigation will focus on the transparency of the utility’s billing practices and the timeliness and effectiveness of its process for responding to customer concerns,” states a press release from the Ontario Ombudsman.

“Complaints about Hydro One to the Ombudsman have risen steadily in recent years and more than doubled since fiscal year 2012-2012,” continues the release. “That year, Mr. Martin’s office received 232 complaints relating to Hydro One, which grew to 328 in 2012-2013 and spiked at more than 600 between April 1, 2013 and today. Most are complaints that bills are wrong, excessive, duplicated, unreasonably delayed or ‘estimated’ based on unclear criteria.”

The Expositor spoke with Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha on this matter who reported that since being elected, Hydro One problems and complaints have been the most common concern brought to the attention of his office by constituents.

“Much of the cases we receive are about hydro concerns,” said Mr. Mantha. “We hear a lot from individuals about irregular billings, monthly bills not coming in and multiple billing. Some individuals haven’t received bills in six to eight months and then are receiving bills for $800 or more. It’s been a very difficult and frustrating process for Algoma-Manitoulin constituents and Ontarians in general.”

Mr. Mantha said that his office has had some success in helping individuals resolve issues with Hydro One, but said he is happy the Ombudsman will be investigating the problem as a whole.

“I am looking forward to seeing the Ombudsman’s report,” continued Mr. Mantha. “Ontarians can’t afford these large hydro bills. We also need to reform and look at measures to make hydro more affordable.”

Mr. Mantha urged anyone who has experienced a billing problem with Hydro One to contact his office. He is also encouraging everyone to read and record their smart meters monthly, stating, “these new smart meters are turning out to be not so smart.”

One Islander who has experienced billing problems with Hydro One is Ann Mitchell of Little Current.

“I didn’t get a bill between June and October last year,” Ms. Mitchell told The Expositor. “I knew this couldn’t be right so I phoned, but every time I phoned to check my account I received a message that I didn’t owe anything. I have equal billing so I just continued to pay my regular monthly amount, but I didn’t receive a bill until October.”

Ms. Mitchell said that if she hadn’t continued to pay the monthly amount despite not receiving a bill and being told by Hydro One that she didn’t owe any money, her bill would have been close to $1,500.

“I would have been able to pay it, but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have been able to or wouldn’t have known how much to pay if they wanted to,” added Ms. Mitchell. “I also haven’t had my bill adjusted in a year and half.”

Another Little Current resident had similar problems with Hydro One. After her husband passed away she had difficulties closing her joint account and opening one in her own name.

“I didn’t get a bill for our old account from April until August, and even that wasn’t until I called,” the Little Current resident who asked to go unnamed told The Expositor. “I still haven’t gotten a bill for my new account and I’ve called half a dozen times. They (Hydro One) have told me that it’s not me, but something to do with the computer at their end. It still took me a lot of calling until someone looked into it and told me that. When I finally get my bill it’s going to be a big one. I will be okay because I’ve planned for it, but what about seniors and people who didn’t?”

“Hydro One should have contacted people by letters or called them to let them know that there is a problem,” she continued. “I was told when I finally get my bill there will be no interest, so hopefully that is the case, but the whole thing is a mess—it’s been six months. I think this was badly mishandled.”

The investigation will be conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) and will focus on the issues of billing and response to customers and will be completed within nine months—after which Mr. Marin will present his report and recommendations.

The Ombudsman is asking anyone who has relevant information to the investigation or who wish to file a claim to contact his office at 1-800-263-1830 or email info@ombudsman.on.ca.

To contact Mr. Mantha’s office call 705-461-9710 or email mmantha-co@ndp.on.ca.

Robin Burridge