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.

14 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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  4. What exactly does the $35 establishment fee for gas AND water go to? There wasn't anyone that had to come out and manually turn anything on or off, the names on the account were simply changed. That cost $70??? This seems like a scam and a PR disaster if you are not more clear about what this money goes to.

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  5. What exactly does the $35 establishment fee for gas AND water go to? There wasn't anyone that had to come out and manually turn anything on or off, the names on the account were simply changed. That cost $70??? This seems like a scam and a PR disaster if you are not more clear about what this money goes to.

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  6. How long does the city continue water, gas and sewer services when $0 has been paid and no other arrangements or communication has been eatablished. I understand it's somewhat variable but on average what would be an estimate.

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  7. The $300 security deposit is not imposed because a customer has a history of paying utility bills late. I am 73 years old having been a Richmond resident for 17 of those years, and have never been late paying utility bills anywhere. Yet I have been billed this month as a return Richmond resident for the entire $300 deposit. I was informed by the City that I was billed for the security deposit based on a "soft" credit recommendation by Experian. After some research I found that Experian has held me responsible for a $177 debt which was paid by Medicare over a year ago. I'm sure this was the reason behind Experian's negative recommendation. Incidentally my credit score with Experian is 700 and 804 with my BB&T accounts.

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  8. I'm trying to pa my gas and but I cann find the amount. It's been off since November and I don't even know kn what the over due amount is

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  9. Why is there a $50 "returned check fee" for an online transaction that did not go through? This amount seems exorbitant. Can you explain to me where this money goes? I still managed to pay my bill on time and don't feel that I should have to pay $50 because of a simple routing number mistake.

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  11. My family of 2 moved to the City of Richmond on July 2017 and since than we have been consistently consuming 3 CCFs. On 3/30/18 I received the bill for the time period of 2/14/18 to 3/14/18 stating we consumed 127 CCFs (prior read 323; current read 450) for a total of $608.36. This means that on average we were using 4.5 CCFs per day during those 28 days. Naturally I assumed we had a leak. I shut off the main water valve and went to read the meter. It had been 15 days since the last read of 450. Given the average of 4.5 per day, I was expecting the water meter to read about 504 (54 more since the last read). To my surprise, the meter read 453, only 3 more. I realized 2 things: 1. I must still have a leak (assuming the meter is correct) because in 15 days I have already used what I normally use in a month. 2. I am being ripped off by the of Richmond because my leak (if there is one) is not nearly as bad. I still called a plumber on 3/31 who did not find any leaks and only changed an old valve to my toilet. I called DPU and when I mentioned the plumber she accused me of admitting to having a leak. Fair enough, I asked for an explanation of the following. If the leak resulted in consumption of 127 CCFs in 28 days, why did it only result in 3 in 15 days? Continuing the trend this month, I will have used 6. Where did the other 121 come from last month? She was not interested in helping me. She instead stated she could send a plumber to check for leaks and if he does not find anything, then my bill can be adjusted. If he finds a leak, I will have to pay 35 per hour for the plumber’s visit. My issue with that is that given the higher than average consumption this month (3 CCFs at midmonth when is normally 3 for the full month), I may actually have a leak so I will end up having to pay the $600 plus $35+. I am afraid they will use a leak that is causing double consumption to explain a consumption 42 times larger than the normal use. If he does not find anything, DPU will quote the work of my plumber. Since they are not interested in possible reading discrepancies, I called back to obtain copies of the last 6 bills. The agent confirmed she would emailed them and I should have them within 10 minutes. It has now been 6 hours.

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  12. Please send your account information and a copy of this to dpucustserv@richmondgov.com
    We are unable to do customer service and account look-ups on the blog.

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