QUEEN’S PARK – Politics – Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today announced he will conduct a systemic investigation into complaints about serious problems with billing and customer service at 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.
New Democratic MPPs Gilles Bisson and France Gélinas state that “An investigation into Hydro One billing launched by Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today is just the latest example of a government hydro system that just isn’t working for the people who are paying the bills”.
Complaints about Hydro One to the Ombudsman have risen steadily in recent years and more than doubled since fiscal 2011-2012. That year, Mr. Marin’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.
“In the past few years, we have seen more and more complaints from Hydro One users about bills that seem to have no bearing in reality – and about the lack of answers they get when they ask why,” said Mr. Marin.
“Our office has helped many Ontarians resolve problems with their bills, but frankly, we’ve also experienced stonewalling from Hydro One. Our experience reflects what we are hearing from people across the province, and it is alarming. Many of those who have contacted us are in vulnerable situations and say they have faced significant financial hardship and stress because of their dealings with Hydro One.”
The New Democratic MPPs say they look forward to the investigation into billing problems that the government has been denying for years.
Hydro One Not Working
“For families and businesses that are struggling to pay the bills, this is just another example of a hydro system that just isn’t working for them,” said Bisson, MPP for Timmins-James Bay. “Seniors living on fixed incomes shouldn’t be opening their bank statements to find out that the hydro company cleared out their life savings. Instead of taking action to solve the problem, the government denies there’s a problem while more and more families get stuck with massive bills.”
Members of the NDP caucus says that complaints about Hydro One’s billing practices have been building for years, even while Cabinet Ministers insisted that the problem was being solved. New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath first called on the Ombudsman to investigate Hydro One billing errors in 2010, when she sent a letter to Marin citing multiple instances of Ontarians being billed up to ten times the normal amount, or having their life savings drained from their bank accounts by Hydro One. At the time, Liberal Energy Minister Brad Duguid insisted that soon such issues “will be a problem of the past” and claimed, “we’re solving the problem” (Toronto Star, December 14, 2010).
Citizens Contacting NDP with Concerns
But the problems have grown worse. New Democrats have been contacted by dozens of Ontario homeowners and businesses about overbilling, including a saw mill operator whose power bill stayed high even when the mill was shut down for weeks at a time. Another complaint came from a retired school teacher who has had to take out a loan against his woodstove-heated home to pay for hydro bills which suddenly increased almost tenfold. When Hydro One does admit a billing error, they refuse to issue a refund, instead applying the sometimes thousands of dollars in overpayment as credits towards future service.
“Billing errors for thousands of dollars are threatening the livelihoods of families across the province, and Hydro One only addresses the issue when it gets dragged in front of the media. Something has to change,” said Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt. “This issue is not only affecting family homes – small businesses across the province are being overbilled for power they aren’t using, and are at risk of shutting their doors. Ontarians deserve better.”