A public inquiry conducted by Alberta provincial court judge Bruce Millar has recommended changes to the procedures that must be followed by provincially regulated utilities when disconnecting customers for non-payment.
The inquiry was looking into the death of John Davis, who froze to death in Calgary in November, 2006 after his gas was disconnected.
Changes have already been made by the utilities as a result of the death. The period during which utilities may no longer be disconnected (the "winter moratorium") has been extended by one month (November 1 to April 15, instead of December 1 to April 15).
In addition, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) is preparing new regulations for the rapid reconnection of utilities after payment is made. The inquiry heard that payment of Mr. Davis' outstanding accounts had been made 2 1/2 months before his death and that numerous calls had been made to the utility, but that his gas had not been reconnected. Judge Millar noted that all of the utilities involved were in compliance with their existing procedures at the time of his death.
Judge Millar was particularly critical of the fact that the AUC was not notified of Mr. Davis' death for three years. This gap is expected to be addressed in the new regulations as well.
The reports of an expert and Alberta's Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate are appended to the fatality inquiry report. While their recommendations were not directly repeated by Judge Millar, these reports were cited with approval. These recommendations contained in those reports include:
- the utilities should undertake a closer examination of their disconnection and reconnection policies and internal communications
- the utilities should improve training for customer service representatives
- the utilities shoudl implement procedures for more rapid reconnections during the winter moratorium period
- benchmarking against other utilities in cold-weather jurisdictions should be undertaken
- a variety of steps to improving interfaces with social assistance agencies should be considered
A copy of the inquiry report can be found here.