Ombudsman urges Hydro One to stop sending threatening letters
Andre Marin says his office has received more than 10,000 complaints
Ontario's ombudsman says Hydro One has been threatening to cut off the electricity of customers who are behind on payments, even during the winter months.
Andre Marin says Hydro One's own policy is to not disconnect customers during the winter, but he says the utility told him that telling customers they'll do so is a common tactic in the industry to get people to pay.
Marin has been looking into Hydro One billing for 13 months and says the number of complaints he has received recently passed 10,000 — the highest total for any of his investigations to date.
His full report will be issued in the spring, but he says so far several themes have emerged, including incorrect bills, large "estimated" bills and unexpectedly large payments withdrawn from customers' bank accounts.
Marin highlighted one case involving a Sudbury area man, who opened his monthly statement to find a $19,000 bill. That bill was ultimately reduced to just $74.
Hydro One did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Marin originally opened his investigation to look into complaints about unexpectedly high bills, no bills for months at a time and multiple bills for the same time period.
As for customer complaints, some remain unresolved.
Englehart area cottage owner Lillian Woodcock said the heating bill for that property has tripled in a few years.
The 90-year-old said she called the utility and wasn’t happy with the response.
“They didn’t give me an explanation but that they’d be in touch with me,” she said.
She added she also got a letter stating someone from the utility would contact her, but said she didn’t hear from them after that.
"I did get the one answer, well what did you expect, it’s only a summer cottage,” she said.
“So outside of that, I kind of gave up.”
Hydro One said it has implemented a promise to resolve customer complaints within 10 days, but can’t speak about individual customers.
The utility also said it has improved service in the past year by hiring more people in its call centre and increasing training.
With files from The Canadian Press