OEB code amendments create province-wide standards for customer service

TORONTO, July 2 /CNW/ - Today the Ontario Energy Board (the Board) issued amendments to the Distribution System Code, the Retail Settlement Code and the Standard Supply Service Code to enhance customer service rules for residential customers and create province-wide standards for electricity utilities across the province.

The changes create rules specific to disconnection for non-payment, security deposits, arrears management programs, equal payment plans, bill issuance and payment, correcting billing errors, allocating partial payments between electricity and non-electricity costs, and managing customer accounts.

Examples include:

    
    -   Ensuring customers receive at least 10 days notice before their
        service is disconnected for non-payment;
    -   Making arrears management programs available to residential customers
        who qualify and are unable to pay their electricity bill;
    -   Ensuring security deposits are applied against any arrears before a
        disconnection notice can be issued to a residential customer;
    -   Making equal monthly payment plans available to residential
        customers; and
    -   Providing a 60-day notice period if any regular resident at a
        customer's home faces a significant health risk if their electricity
        supply is disconnected.
    

The amendments flow from a Board-initiated consultation process concerning how electricity distributors provide service to their customers.

Most of the amendments will take effect on January 1, 2011. The new arrears management programs and equal monthly payment plans will come into force on October 1, 2010 and April 1, 2011, respectively.

For more information please refer to the customer service rules backgrounder at http://www.oeb.gov.on.ca/OEB/_Documents/Press+Releases/bckgrndr_dsc.pdf.

The Ontario Energy Board regulates the province's electricity and natural gas sectors in the public interest. It envisions a viable and efficient energy sector with informed consumers and works toward this vision through regulation that is effective, fair and transparent.

For more information on the Board, please visit our web site at www.oeb.gov.on.ca or contact the Consumer Relations Centre at 416-314-2455 or toll-free at 1-877- 632-2727.

Ce document est aussi disponible en français.

    
    Backgrounder                 Summary of Customer Service Code Amendments

    July 2, 2010
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The changes listed below outline new Ontario Energy Board amendments to the Distribution System Code (DSC), the Retail Settlement Code (RSC) and the Standard Supply Service Code (SSSC) that enhance customer service rules and create province-wide standards for electricity utilities across the province.

1. Bill Issuance & Payment

These amendments clarify issues such as when a bill is considered paid and when late payment charges can be applied.

Coming into force on January 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    No related code rules.   The minimum payment period (before a late
    (Practices vary from     payment penalty can be applied) will be at least
    utility to utility.)     16 days from the date the bill was issued to the
                             customer.

                             The date on which the bill was issued is
                             determined to be three days after it was printed
                             if sent by mail or on the date on which an email
                             was sent over the internet.

                             A bill payment is deemed to be received from the
                             customer: three days before it is received by
                             the distributor if sent by mail; on the date
                             when the payment is acknowledged by a bank, or
                             when the credit card payment is accepted by the
                             financial institution.

                             Any payment made after 5:00 p.m. is still
                             effective on the day the payment is made. If a
                             due date is a non-business day, it is extended
                             to the next business day.

                             If a bill includes charges other than
                             electricity charges, any payment must first go
                             directly to the electricity charges and then, if
                             funds are remaining, to the other charges. If
                             payment is sufficient to cover electricity
                             charges, the distributor shall not issue late
                             payment charges, a disconnection notice or
                             disconnect the electricity supply. This applies
                             to joint billing agreements when they are
                             renewed, or after two years, whichever comes
                             sooner.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

2. Disconnections for Non-Payment

Disconnection Notices

These amendments include standards clarifying notification processes for a distributor prior to disconnecting a customer.

Coming into force on January 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The Distribution         All customers must receive 10 days notice before
    System Code recommends   being disconnected for non-payment.
    distributors provide
    no less than 7           Residents who have provided documentation from a
    calendar days notice     physician that disconnection will pose a
    before disconnecting     significant health risk, must receive 60 days
    a customer for           notice before being disconnected for non-
    non-payment.             payment.

    Section 31 of the        When a disconnection notice is issued in a
    Electricity Act states   building with multiple units, and a master
    that a distributor may   meter, a copy of the notice must be posted in a
    disconnect a property    conspicuous place in the building.
    if any amount payable
    by a person is overdue.  Disconnection notices sent to residential
                             customers must contain prescribed information,
    This section also        such as the earliest and latest date
    states that a            disconnection may occur, the forms of payment a
    distributor shall        customer may use, that a Board-prescribed
    provide reasonable       arrears management program is available, and
    notice of the proposed   that a disconnection may take place whether or
    shut-off by personal     not the customer is home at the time.
    service or prepaid
    mail or by posting the
    notice on the property
    in a conspicuous place
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

Disconnection Procedures

These amendments include standards around how and when a customer can be disconnected and how payment can be made to avoid disconnection.

Coming into force on January 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    No related code rules.   Distributors must make a reasonable effort to
    (Practices vary from     contact the customer one final time, in person
    utility to utility)      or by telephone, prior to disconnecting service
                             at least 48 hours before the scheduled
                             disconnection date. There is certain prescribed
                             information that a distributor must provide,
                             such as advising of the potential availability
                             of an arrears program.

                             If a distributor has been unable to contact a
                             customer 48 hours before a planned
                             disconnection, they should generally make a
                             reasonable attempt to communicate with the
                             customer at the door (subject to consideration
                             of the safety and security of utility field
                             staff).

                             Distributors must, at a minimum, have the
                             facilities and staff available during regular
                             business hours so residential customers can pay
                             overdue amounts by credit card.

                             When a distributor visits a customer's property
                             to disconnect service, customers must be allowed
                             to pay overdue amounts by credit card (and any
                             other form of payment the distributor wishes to
                             accept).

                             Distributors should reconnect a property within
                             two business days of payment in full or entering
                             into an arrears management agreement 85% of the
                             time.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

Suspending Disconnection Action

These amendments include clarifying the role of a registered charity, government agency, social service agency or other third parties in suspending a notice of disconnection.

Coming into force on October 1, 2010.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    No related code rules.   If, during the disconnection notice period, a
    (Practices vary from     registered charity, government agency or social
    utility to utility)      service agency advises a distributor they are
                             assessing whether a residential customer is
                             eligible for bill payment assistance, the
                             distributor must suspend disconnection action
                             for a period of 21 days after receiving
                             notification from the agency.

                             If, during the disconnection notice period, a
                             third party who had previously been designated
                             by the customer to receive any disconnection
                             notices, advises a distributor they are
                             attempting to arrange assistance to help the
                             customer pay their bill, the distributor must
                             suspend disconnection action for a period of
                             21 days.

                             A distributor must act on the disconnection
                             notice within 11 days of its issuance or the
                             lifting of a suspension. If disconnection does
                             not occur within 11 days from the date of the
                             notice or the lifting of the suspension, the
                             distributor must issue a new disconnection
                             notice and start the process once again.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

3. Security Deposits

These amendments set common standards around how large a security deposit can be and how it is applied to payment arrears. (The list of current rules below outlines only those rules relevant to the corresponding amendments. It is not an exhaustive list of the security deposit rules set out in the Distribution System Code).

Coming into force on January 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Customers may pay a      Residential customers can pay a required
    required security        deposit, an increase in a security deposit or a
    deposit in equal         replacement of a deposit applied against
    instalments over at      arrears, in equal instalments over at least six
    least four months.       months.

    Under the Distribution   There must be a review of the security deposit
    System Code, when a      during the year after the first anniversary of
    customer has received    the first instalment payment.
    more than one
    disconnection notice     A residential customer's average monthly
    in a relevant 12-month   consumption over a 12-month, consecutive period
    period, the maximum      in the last two years, must always be used to
    amount a distributor     calculate the maximum amount a distributor can
    can collect for a        collect for a security deposit.
    security deposit is
    equivalent to the        Security deposits must be applied against any
    customer's highest       arrears and be insufficient to cover any amounts
    actual or estimated      owing before a disconnection notice can be
    monthly consumption,     issued to a residential customer.
    within the most recent
    12 consecutive months    When a security deposit has been applied against
    in the past two years.   any arrears, the customer may have to repay the
                             security deposit, and be allowed to repay in
                             equal instalments over at least six months.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

4. Equal Monthly Payments

These amendments require the option for all residential customers to join an equal monthly payment plan.

All the new equal billing rules are coming into effect April 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Under the Standard       Distributors are required to offer all
    Supply Service Code,     residential customers receiving standard supply
    a distributor may offer  service the option to join an equal monthly
    an equal billing plan    payment plan.
    option to all standard
    supply service           Only customers that are in arrears and have not
    customers, but it is     entered into an arrears payment agreement may be
    up to their discretion.  refused an equal monthly payment option.

                             Customers can join equal monthly payment plans
                             any time of the year.

                             Distributors may require customers who join an
                             equal monthly payment plan to also join an
                             automatic payment withdrawal plan if the billing
                             cycle is less frequent than monthly.

                             Residential equal payment customers who
                             participate in automatic payment arrangements
                             must be given a choice of at least two dates
                             within a month for automatic payments to be
                             withdrawn.

                             Distributors may continue to issue bills on a
                             monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis.

                             Utilities will review customer's monthly billing
                             plans quarterly or semi-annually and adjust the
                             monthly equalized payment if electricity
                             consumption or approved charges have changed
                             materially.

                             Utilities are required to reconcile all of their
                             equal monthly payment plans once during the
                             calendar year but not on the 12th month
                             anniversary of a customer joining the plan. If a
                             customer is in the first year of a plan, they
                             may be reconciled earlier.

                             If the annual reconciliation shows that the
                             customer is owed an amount equal to or exceeding
                             the customer's average monthly billing, the
                             amount will be credited to the customer's
                             account. The customer will be notified of this
                             credit and will have 10 days to request a refund
                             cheque instead of the credit on their bill.

                             If the annual reconciliation shows that the
                             amount owed to the customer is less than the
                             average billing amount, the amount will be
                             credited to the customer's account.

                             If the annual reconciliation shows that the
                             customer owes an amount equal to or exceeding
                             the customer's average monthly billing, the
                             distributor shall recover the balance over the
                             first 11 months of the following year's equal
                             monthly payment plan.

                             If the annual reconciliation shows that the
                             amount the customer owes is less than the
                             customer's average monthly billing, the
                             distributor may collect the full amount by a
                             charge on the bill in the 12th month of the
                             equal monthly payment plan.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

5. Arrears Management Programs

These amendments require distributors to establish arrears management programs for customers.

Coming into force on October 1, 2010.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    No related code rules    Utilities must make arrears management programs
    (Practices vary from     available to any residential customer unable to
    utility to utility)      pay their electricity charges. In the case of
                             distributors who also collect water, sewer and
                             other charges, these amendments apply only to
                             the electricity charges.

                             Any security deposit must be applied to the
                             amounts owing before entering into an arrears
                             payment agreement.

                             Customers may be required to make a down payment
                             of up to 15% of the arrears plus any accumulated
                             late payment charges (not including other
                             service charges such as reconnection charges)
                             when entering into an arrears management
                             agreement.

                             If a customer owes less than twice their average
                             monthly bill after applying the security deposit
                             and down payment, the minimum length of time to
                             pay the remaining amount is five months.

                             If a customer owes more than twice their average
                             monthly bill after applying the security deposit
                             and down payment, the minimum length of time to
                             pay the remaining amount is 10 months.

                             Distributors can cancel the agreement if a
                             customer defaults on the arrears payment or
                             current bill payment more than once.

                             Customers must be given 10 days written notice
                             before an agreement can be cancelled, and the
                             agreement must be reinstated if the customer
                             pays in full before the cancellation date.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

6. Billing Adjustments

These amendments clarify how a distributor can correct instances of a customer being over- or under-billed over a period of time.

Coming into force on April 1, 2011.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Under the Retail         Over or under-billing adjustments are permitted
    Settlement Code,         over a period of up to two years for all classes
    where the customer has   of customers. Note that the Limitations Act,
    been over billed, the    2002 provides a standard two-year limitation
    customer will be         period for all actions in debt (subject to any
    credited for the         considerations of discoverability).
    amount for up to a
    6 year period            If a customer has been over-billed by an amount
                             equal to or greater than the customer's average
    Where the customer has   bill, the customer has the option of receiving a
    been under-billed,       cheque or a credit on their next bill.
    the customer will be
    charged the amount not   If a customer has been over-billed and the
    previously billed. For   amount is less than the customer's average bill,
    residential customers    the customer will receive a credit on their next
    not responsible for the  bill. If the customer has outstanding arrears,
    error, the customer may  the distributor may apply the over-billed amount
    be charged for up to     to the arrears first, and may credit or repay
    2 years. For non-        the balance to the customer.
    residential or
    customers responsible    If a customer is under-billed and is not
    for the error, the       responsible for the error, the customer is
    allowable time is the    allowed to pay the under-billed amount in equal
    length of time they      instalments over the same amount of time as they
    were under billed.       were under-billed for up to a maximum of two
                             years. (e.g. if a customer has been under-billed
                             for five months, they will have five months to
                             pay the under-billed amount).

                             When a customer is responsible for the under-
                             billing error, the distributor may require
                             payment of the full amount on the next bill or
                             on a separate bill.

                             These rules do not apply when a distributor has
                             under-billed or over-billed a customer but
                             issues a corrected bill within 16 days of the
                             date the incorrect bill was issued.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

7. Opening and Closing Accounts

These amendments clarify issues around the opening and closing of accounts, including those in rental units.

Coming into force on April 1, 2011

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Current Rule(s)          Revised Rule(s)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Under the Distribution   If a distributor opens a new account based on a
    System Code a person     request from a third party, a letter must be
    may become a customer    sent to the new user within 15 days of the
    of the distributor by    opening of the account. The account will not be
    implied consent (for     set up if the new user has not approved the
    example, by accepting    opening of the account within 15 days of the
    utility service).        letter. However, a solicitor or person with
                             Power of Attorney can agree on behalf of the new
                             customer to the opening of the account.

                             Distributors can only recover charges from a
                             person who has agreed in writing to become a
                             customer.

                             When a tenant customer moves out of a rental
                             unit, distributors cannot seek to recover future
                             charges from any other person, including the
                             landlord, unless that person has agreed in
                             writing to assume responsibility for the
                             account.

                             A distributor and a landlord may enter into an
                             agreement where the landlord agrees to
                             automatically assume responsibility for paying
                             for continued service after the closure of a
                             tenants account.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

Ce document est aussi disponible en français.

SOURCE Ontario Energy Board

For further information: For further information: Media Inquiries: Paul Crawford, Ontario Energy Board, 416-544-5171; Public Inquiries: 416-314-2455 Or 1-877-632-2727


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