Friday, January 20, 2017

Explaining High Customer Bills

The city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) receives a fair share of customer calls concerning high utility bills. Recently, there was one such example in the media from a customer contending that they were overcharged. More often than not, there is more to the story than what the media reports when their community reporters investigate. The following is an explanation of how a customer bill can be impacted when it is not paid on time and the customer does not contact our Customer Care center for assistance early:

It is very easy for utility bills to snowball. When balances are left or payments are skipped, not only is that payment still due, but there are late fees that are assessed. If the same payment amount is made every month, regardless of whether its winter and gas usage is likely higher, in just a few months, the bill will accumulate enough of an unpaid balance to trigger a disconnection warning.

Say you move to a new residence. Unpaid bills from old accounts in your name follow you. So your first bill at a new address may be a surprise to you, but it shouldn’t be, because you still owe for utilities used by you at a former address. The bill doesn’t stay with the address. It travels with the account holder.

In order to open a residential utility account in the city of Richmond, a customer or applicant may be required to pay a security deposit if they have a history of paying utility bills late. The security deposit is $100 for water service and $200 for gas service. These charges will appear on the first utility bill. There is also a service establishment fee of $35 each for gas and for water. This fee covers the administrative cost of establishing the account. These charges will also appear on the first utility bill. Understandably, it may seem like a lot to pay on the first bill and the temptation may be to let it roll over to future bills. But, it's important to remember that late fees will then be added on, and eventually the balance will snowball into an amount triggering a disconnection notice.

Water leaks can be devastating to a customer’s utility bill total, and also hard to spot if there is a large
unpaid balance being carried over from month to month. This can happen when only partial payments or no payments are made on the account. If a spike in your water charges is seen and you know it is definitely not a past due amount – look at individual lines on your bill, not just the bottom line. Then contact DPU Customer Care immediately to discuss the increase in your water consumption. If necessary, DPU will perform a site inspection to see what may be causing the increased water consumption. If it is found that the leak is on the city side of the meter, your bill will be adjusted 100 percent for the excess water and wastewater charges.

We try our best to come to a resolution with all of our customers, but there is not much we can do if a customer’s bill-paying strategy is to skip payments or make partial payments until the bill becomes excessively high. There are equal monthly payment plans available to deal with seasonal spikes in heating bills to make your monthly payment uniform year-round.

And when you call us, please stay calm and help us work with you. Our Customer Care representatives work with compassion and empathy, but if customers become angry to the point of shouting or using inappropriate language or making threats, Customer Care representatives have the right to disconnect the call. After all, we are here to help you.

4 comments:

  1. Please explain exactly what are WaterWaste Charges....where do they come from?

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  2. It's the charge to clean your water before returning it to river. Most of the time it is based on how much water you use, but during the summer, the fee is reduced because some of the water you use may be for watering lawns and plants, and that water does not go through the wastewater treatment plant for cleaning before being returned to the river.

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  3. I have lived in many states and in several areas in Virginia. The City of Richmond Utility bills are exorbitant compared to anywhere else I have lived, including Connecticut, one of the most expensive states in the Union to live in. Considering the extremely poor maintenance conditions of the gas lines, water lines, meters, roads, etc. I am wondering where all of this money is going, because it's not going into maintenance or upgrading antique meters.

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    1. Agreed. I've lived in various "expensive" places (New York, DC, etc.), and in a variety of places in Virginia, and am nonetheless shocked by the public utilities bill in Richmond.

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