Customer service rules review

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) is proposing a suite of changes to strengthen the customer service rules that protect electricity and natural gas consumers throughout the province.

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You spoke. We listened.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) is proposing a suite of changes to strengthen the customer service rules that protect electricity and natural gas consumers throughout the province.

After hearing from consumer groups, utility and industry stakeholders and more than 2,500 residential and small business consumers, the OEB has released a Board Report as part of its Customer Service Rules Review.

The Report proposes a number of changes to the rules that cover major areas including disconnections, security deposits and billing. The changes are intended to maintain the right balance between consumer protection and the operational needs of energy utilities.

What we heard, what we learned and what we propose

The proposed changes have been informed by best practices in other provinces, states and sectors, as well as what we heard from stakeholder consultations, the OEB Consumer Panel and a customer survey. Service rules relating to billing, late payments and fees garnered a great deal of feedback among survey participants.

The disconnection/reconnection charge, for example, was one fee that sparked concerns among consumers. They said customers who are experiencing financial difficulties and are trying to pay their arrears would struggle to pay a reconnection fee as well. 

“I think if you’re having a hard time paying it in the first place, it’s going to be hard to come up with the reconnection charge. It’s like a double-whammy.” – Consumer Panelist 

Establishing minimum standards for all energy utilities

Rules for electricity distributors and unit sub-meter providers (USMPs) have been in place for a number of years. Natural gas utilities are required to have customer service policies covering the same major areas as electricity utilities. While the OEB does not prescribe what those policies have to say, it can enforce those policies.

The OEB proposes to develop rules for natural gas utilities, aligned with the rules that apply to electricity utilities. All proposed rule changes below should also apply to natural gas utilities. The OEB believes this approach would ensure that both electricity and natural gas customers are treated in a fair and consistent manner.

Here’s a look at some key proposed changes to the customer service rules:

Current Electricity Rules/Situation
(Proposed to also apply to Gas)
Proposed Changes
(Proposed to also apply to Gas)

Security Deposits

For residential customers, security deposits must be returned after one year of good payment history.

No change.

New residential customers are exempt from having to pay a security deposit if they can provide a letter showing one year of good payment history with another electricity or gas utility in Canada, or a satisfactory credit check at the customer’s expense.

Security deposits should also be waived for new residential customers enrolling in the utility’s equal billing and/or a pre-authorized payment plan as determined by the utility.

Security deposits must be waived for eligible low-income customers upon request.

No change.
For small business customers, security deposits must be returned after five years of good payment history. Security deposits should be returned after three years of good payment history for small business customers.

Getting money back faster

 

The OEB believes that three years of good payment history is a good indication of a small business’ ability and willingness to pay. The change would be consistent with practices in a number of other jurisdictions.

Minimum Payment Period

Electricity utilities must give customers a minimum of 16 calendar days from the date the bill is issued to pay their bills before applying late payment charges. The minimum payment period before a late payment charge can be applied should be at least 20 calendar days from the date the bill is issued to the customer.

More time to pay

 

The OEB believes that utilities should give customers at least 20 calendar days to pay their bills before a late payment charge is applied. Most customers surveyed agreed that 20 days was a reasonable time to pay the bill. A look at energy utilities in other jurisdictions shows that 20 days or more is the general practice.

Disconnect/Reconnect Charge

Note: This section does not apply to USMPs

Customers who have their electricity service reconnected after being disconnected for not paying their bills can incur a “Disconnect/Reconnect” charge that ranges from $65 to $415. This charge should be waived for eligible low-income customers. Other residential customers should be allowed to pay the charge over a period of three months.

Getting vulnerable customers back on track

 

The OEB believes that eligible low-income customers who are trying to pay down their arrears should not have to face further hardship from having to pay a reconnection charge as well. 

 

A full listing of the proposed changes can be viewed in the Board Report or take a look at our summary table comparing the current rules with the proposed rule changes. 

What do you think?

With the release of the Report and these proposed changes, the OEB wants to know what you think. Are we getting it right? Is there something we missed? Tell us here.

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