Alberta's Utilities Consumer Advocate now mediating water bill disputes

The Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) has been around since 2003 with a mandate to educate and help consumers with their electricity and natural gas bills. It is adding water utility mediation to its list of services.

Organization has been mediating natural gas and electricity-related disputes since 2003

Alberta's Utilities Consumer Advocate is now offering free mediation services for water bill disputes. The office has been mediating natural gas and electricity bill disputes for more 15 years. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Albertans facing shockingly high water bills will have a new place to turn when they need help dealing with their utility providers starting Dec. 1.

The Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) has been around since 2003 with a mandate to educate and help consumers with their electricity and natural gas bills.

They are now adding water utility mediation to its list of services, which are offered free of charge.

"We've got 15 years of history on helping consumers with electricity and natural gas bills," said Chris Hunt, UCA's executive director.

"A lot of billing and customer service issues are similar. What's unique about water is it is local municipal infrastructure and we're cognizant of that."

Hunt said the challenge for the organization is every municipality is different, but staff are working to get up to speed on various rules.

Demand for service

He said last year, his office received about 200 calls from people looking for help with their water bills, before it was part of their mandate, so he expects there will be a considerable demand for the service. 

The benefit for consumers in this kind of mediation is it removes a lot of the emotion out of the exchange, Hunt said.

"We can then go to the utility and focus on the problem-solving for the consumer," Hunt said. "Because we're going to be more familiar with these types of utility issues, we can find a resolution faster than if there is a lot of back and forth between the municipal water provider and a consumer."

For more information, visit the Utilities Consumer Advocate website.