Ombudsman to investigate Hydro One: “Alarming” complaints about billing practices, customer service
TORONTO (February 4, 2014) – 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.
Read the Feb. 7 investigation update
Read the Ombudsman's remarks from his Feb. 4 press conference
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.”
Common complaints involved large “catch-up” bills issued to customers who had received estimated bills – or no bills – for long periods, and were given little time to pay or explanation for the amounts billed. Many people also cited long waits for inadequate information from Hydro One’s customer service operations.
The investigation will be conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT). It will focus on the issues of billing and response to customers, and will be completed within nine months – after which Mr. Marin will produce his report and recommendations.
Hydro One is a Crown corporation owned by the province and is Ontario’s largest electricity company, with 1.4 million customers. It reports to the Ministry of Energy. Both the Ministry and Hydro One have been notified of the Ombudsman’s investigation.
Mr. Marin will answer questions from news media about the investigation at a press conference at 11 a.m. today at Queen’s Park. The press conference will be webcast live – and video will be posted thereafter – at www.ombudsman.on.ca.
Since 2005, SORT has conducted some 30 major systemic investigations into issues affecting large numbers of Ontarians, sparking reforms of (among other things) newborn screening, crime victim compensation, property tax assessment, and the lottery system. The Ombudsman’s recommendations stemming from such investigations have been overwhelmingly accepted.
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