On August 17, 2016, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) posted data reported by all licensed electricity distributors in Ontario pertaining to residential customer accounts in arrears (the Report). The data show that while the number of residential customers in arrears has not significantly increased between 2014 and 2015, the number of eligible low-income customer accounts in arrears did increase for that same period.
The OEB established province-wide Customer Service Standards with rules to protect consumers facing disconnection by electricity utilities in 2011. The purpose of the new rules and establishing standardized arrears management programs was to protect customers from unnecessary disconnections, give low-income customers a longer period in which to pay their bills, lower disconnection rates overall and reduce utility bad debt write-offs. To test the effectiveness of these standards, the OEB requires all Ontario electricity utilities to provide it with annual data on disconnections, reconnections, and arrears beginning in 2013. Going forward, the data will be used to assist the OEB in reviewing trends and determining the effectiveness of existing programs, policies and rules.
The Report indicates that in 2015, there were 566,902 residential customer accounts in arrears at year end. Arrears are defined by the OEB as accounts that are 30 or more days past the 16-day minimum payment period. This is approximately 11.5% of some 4.89 million electricity consumers in Ontario. The 2014 figure for residential customer accounts in arrears at year end was similar, with 567,165 accounts outstanding. However, both figures are an increase from 2013, when only 472,620 residential customer accounts were in arrears at year end. The total dollar amount for residential customers in arrears at year end in 2015 was $172,558,137, a decrease from the 2014 figure of $210,086,745. The same figure in 2013 was $108,053,838.
For some outstanding accounts, electricity distributors had entered into arrears payments agreements with their customers. The Report shows that the total amount of monies owing under arrears payment agreements entered into in 2015 with residential customers was $109,056,557. The same figure in 2014 was $74,828,562, and in 2013 it was $67,905,748. This indicates that the total amount owing under arrears payment agreements is increasing year over year. The total dollar amount of write-offs for residential customer accounts in 2015 also increased to $35,172,817, up from $32,744,390 in 2014 and $31,025,642 in 2013.
The Report also shows that in 2015, the number of eligible low-income customer accounts in arrears at year end was 19,914. The OEB defines “eligible low-income customer” as a residential consumer approved for the OEB’s Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) or Emergency Financial Assistance. This is up from 15,860 accounts in 2014 and 13,999 in 2013. The total dollar amount of arrears for eligible low-income customer accounts in arrears at year end in 2015 was $13,005,538. The same figure in 2014 was $9,203,837, and in 2013 was $5,397,185. The total dollar amount of write-offs for eligible low-income customer accounts was $3,620,570 in 2015, up from $2,060,046 in 2014 and $1,075,897 in 2013.