Ontario Ombudsman investigating Hydro One billing issues

In February, 2014, Ontario’s Ombudsman announced that his office is investigating Hydro One billing issues.

Customers with concerns are encouraged to call 1-800-263-1830, file an online complaint or email info@ombudsman.on.ca

June 26, 2014 – Excerpts from the 2013 -2014 “Watchdog Report” :

Hydro One – Ministry of Energy

In the wake of a sharp spike in complaints about billing and customer service at Hydro One – complaints rose from 232 in fiscal 2011-2012 to more than 600 in the first 10 months of fiscal 2013-2014 – the Ombudsman launched an investigation in February 2014, into the transparency of the utility’s billing practices and the timeliness and effectiveness of its process for responding to customer concerns. By March 31, 2014, it had garnered 6,961 complaints, and the number continues to grow – the most complaints, by far, that our Office has ever received about a single government organization.

Hydro One customers across the province complained about receiving no bills, delayed bills, multiple bills or estimated bills covering prolonged periods – resulting in alarmingly high “catch-up” bills. Some customers who had automatic payment agreements with Hydro One were distressed when it withdrew unexpectedly large sums of money from their bank accounts. Many also found that when they complained to Hydro One – or even sought information on how their bills were calculated – they were met with more frustrating delays and poor customer service.

The response to the investigation announcement from the public, Hydro One and government was immediate. More than 1,500 new complaints poured in during the first four days. Along with the Premier and Minister of Energy, Hydro One’s CEO pledged full co-operation with the investigation. The CEO wrote to all Hydro One customers to acknowledge serious problems with billing and customer service, which he said arose from “unanticipated” issues with the introduction of a new system implemented in May 2013.

Since the launch of the Ombudsman’s investigation, Hydro One has implemented several short-term measures to alleviate problems. The CEO outlined these in letters to all MPPs and the Ombudsman in early April 2014. They included:

• Waiving late payment charges;

• Providing service charge credits and interest-free payment instalment plans;

• Pledging not to disconnect any customer for billing issues;

• Contacting customers before sending large or unexpected bills;

• Obtaining consent before taking an “abnormally large” sum from a customer’s bank account; and

• Setting a 10-day turnaround time for escalated complaints.

The investigation is progressing on two fronts, as Ombudsman staff deal with the broad systemic issues while helping thousands of people with their individual cases.

Systemic investigation: The Ombudsman set a deadline of nine months to complete the field investigation, after which a report and recommendations will be drafted. The Special Ombudsman Response Team has begun interviews with witnesses, who will include Hydro One staff, customers, stakeholders and utilities in other jurisdictions.

Individual cases: A dedicated team of 10 Early Resolution Officers and Investigators is working with a team set up by Hydro One to resolve thousands of individual complaints as quickly as possible. In the first months of the investigation, staff across our Office worked to triage and respond to the extraordinarily high volume of complaints – identifying some 3,900 to bring forward to Hydro One for action. Examples of some of the cases that have been resolved can be found in the Case Summaries section of this report.

Find more information about the Ombudsman and read the full 2013-2014 report .

Michelle LewinOntario Ombudsman investigating Hydro One billing issues