Direct Energy customer gets 16 bills in one day

Sean Harrington says he's been dealing with a number of confusing and contradictory bills from Direct Energy since the company credited him $1,200 last June.
Sean Harrington, who is on a fixed monthly plan with Direct Energy, says the company needs to get its act together when it comes to billing customers. (CBC)

An Edmonton man says Direct Energy needs to get its act together after the energy provider sent him 16 bills in one day for the small townhouse where he lives in Mill Woods. 

Sean Harrington says he's been dealing with a number of confusing and contradictory bills from Direct Energy since the company credited him $1,200 last June. 

Harrington is on an equalized payment plan of $174 a month, which he pays in full each bill, so he phoned the company to point out he had no such credit.

"All this happened because they said they had a problem with their software," Harrington said.

He was told the company would fix it and not to do anything further.

He said they told him his bills for the summer would be waived because of the inconvenience.

But then Harrington received six bills from Direct Energy on Oct. 28 and another 16 bills on Jan. 26, ranging from a credit of $1,127 to a bill for $2,246.08.

"These bills don't make any sense." said Harrington, shaking his head as he looked over the mound of paper bills in front of him.

So he phoned Direct Energy again.

"They told me that was a mistake and I shouldn't have got those. They said they would send it to head office and in five days I would get a call from them telling me exactly what was going on."

That call never arrived. So Harrington called back again.

"I don't know where it was or if it was even in Canada," he said.

"They told me that ...somebody would call me back in three days. It seems like every single time I try and get this resolved because there's a whole bunch of one hand not talking to another, they want to postpone it."

Then came an email saying he owed Direct Energy over $2,200.

Harrington is on permanent medical leave from his job in the oilfield servicing industry because of a rare condition that required brain surgery.

He said he's not in a position to pay Direct Energy anything more than $870, the amount he believes he owes.

After receiving the email, a fed-up Harrington contacted the Better Business Bureau.

"They tell me they are swamped with all of these and that it'll be three to five weeks before they can even look at it."

100 complaints a month 

Leah Brownridge with the Better Business Bureau confirms a number of complaints against Direct Energy.

"It does seem to be on the rise right now...As Edmonton [BBB] moves forward, they are definitely keeping these guys on their radar," she said. "They do have an "F" rating with Edmonton and they are not accredited with Edmonton".

Brownridge said the Calgary Better Business Bureau has issued an alert about Direct Energy after being taken to court for allegedly violating consumer protection legislation.

Service Alberta said it receives about a hundred complaints a month from consumers about Direct Energy, according to spokesperson Cheryl Tkalcic.

"That's definitely significant and we are aware of the concerns and we are taking them to Direct Energy and making sure that these things are dealt with in any way that we can."

Tkalcic says the government is definitely considering legislation to protect consumers.

"This government believes the marketplace should be safe for consumers and we are always looking for ways to improve our legislation. We are continuing to look at regulations in other jurisdictions, comparing it to what we have in our province."

Harrington said he thinks the reason why Direct Energy continues to act this way is obvious.

"I'm just thinking that they say these things so you'll just be quiet and eventually you'll give up and pay an obscene amount of money."

Hours after CBC contacted Direct Energy for their response, Harrington said he got a call from them. By the next day. his billing problem was resolved. But the representative from Direct Energy wasn't able to tell him why this happened.

"He said he doesn't even know why. He apologizes profusely and it doesn't make any sense."

Harrington agreed to pay Direct Energy $1,200. Then he received another phone call from them saying they were forgiving his entire account.

"I now owe them zero" said Harrington.

Direct Energy didn't provide anyone for CBC to interview but provided this statement.

"Direct Energy worked with Mr. Harrington to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement for his account. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this situation has caused and appreciate Mr. Harrington's business."

Harrington is relieved his situation has been straightened out, but worries about what might still be happening to other customers of Direct Energy.

"I believe firmly that CBC helped me expedite the whole process to some kind of resolution. But it's sad in this day and age that a person has to resort to such extent to get anything resolved."

Harrington is already checking out new energy providers where he plans to take his business.

"I'm going to support a business that's actually in Alberta."


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