The number of complaints the Alberta government has received about Direct Energy Regulated Services has spiked since the utility introduced a new billing system almost five months ago.

In a statement to CBC Go Public, Direct Energy acknowledged having "lingering issues," but it said that "approximately 99.75 per cent" of its bills have gone out on time. The company did not address the number of other complaints it's had since it introduced the new system.

Andrea Daly, of St. Albert, Alta., had been fighting Direct Energy for nine weeks over an electricity bill of more than $500 for a house she doesn't own, in a town she had to use Google to locate.

"My frustration has been through the roof," Daly told CBC's Go Public.

"This has been like a global tour. I've spoken to people in Texas, the Philippines, in Guatemala. I've talked to people in three different countries at least, trying to deal with a problem almost in our own backyard, and I've not had any help at all."

Direct Energy cancelled the bills after Daly told her story to Go Public.

Daly's problems began Jan. 5, when she opened a Direct Energy bill for $151.50 that had originally been mailed to a house in St. Albert which she had sold more than eight years ago.

The bill was for yet another address in a place she'd never heard of — in Nacmine, a former ghost town, now becoming a new subdivision in Drumheller, Alta.

Daly said dealing with Direct Energy was nearly impossible.

"I realized the only way you could actually talk to a human was to pretend you were a new client," she said.

nacmine

Daly had never heard of Nacmine, Alta., a former ghost town 300 kilometres from where Daly lives. (CBC)

"And they said at the very least I would have to go and actually prove that I didn't own this house in Nacmine, Alberta." she said.

"I was stunned. How do you prove you don't own a house?"

Daly says she spent about six hours on the phone with Direct Energy, spoke to a dozen different people and detailed the problem precisely in three emails.

She said she got no response and that nothing changed except the size of the bill, which rose to $521.88 before she called Go Public.

Whoever lives in the Nacmine home is using about 600 kw/h of electricity each month, but Daly is getting the bills.

"I am starting to worry this is going to affect my credit rating eventually. Now I am several bills 'overdue'," she said.

Scalable service

On its website Direct Energy says it started a new billing and customer care system platform in Alberta beginning in October 2014.

It calls the new system "a modern, flexible and scalable service platform that will meet the needs of online savvy customers."


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In a statement to CBC, the company said it has more than a million customers in the province and that "[w]e are working diligently to address any lingering issues that arise."

The statement said customers can call Direct Energy's toll-free number and, if the agent can't resolve the problem, ask for a supervisor.

'No calls. No emails'

Daly says she spoke to at least seven supervisors since Jan. 5.

"I have been reassured somebody will get back to me immediately about my concerns, and despite numerous phone calls I've made, I've never had a person phone me back about it," she said.

direct energy

The bills include one for a house she sold eight years ago and another for a home in a former ghost town she'd never heard of. (CBC)

"They have my cell number, they have my work phone, they have my home number. No calls. No emails."

In a subsequent statement to Go Public Direct Energy spokeswoman Jessica Michan said the company has now apologized to Daly for she called "an unfortunate internal error" and says the company tried to reach Daly three times.

Michan called it a "single incident that does not affect any other customers."

While it's not certain Daly's mix-up is the result of the company's new billing system Go Public has received other complaints from Direct Energy customers in the past few weeks.

One woman complained she called the company repeatedly to ask why she hadn't had a bill for three months. She said she was told it was the fault of another company, then received bills totalling $460, due in two weeks.

7 times higher

One man told us he was still receiving bills, even though he had closed his account and sold the house.

Since Direct Energy introduced its new billing system, complaints to the Alberta government are more than seven times higher than they were for the same period a year ago, according to Scott Seymour of Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA).

"The UCA have been in contact with senior management with Direct Energy and they have reassured the UCA that they are working on the issue with individual customer concerns," Seymour said.

Andrea Daly said she called Go Public to help herself and to help others.

"I believe there are a lot of problems with big corporations like this that are billing people incorrectly and taking advantage of people who may not know how to step and fight for themselves," she said.

"(And) for selfish reasons I want this solved. I'm tired of phoning every second week and being reassured they are dealing with this when nothing is happening. I pay my own bills I don't need to pay somebody else's."