As we discussed in an earlier post, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has been engaged in a review of Customer Service Rules for Electricity and Gas consumers. This was promised at the time that the OEB first implemented new rules to ban local electricity distribution companies from disconnecting residential consumers during the winter season.
On September 6, 2018, the OEB issued its Report on the Review of Customer Service Rules for Utilities. As explained in the OEB’s cover letter to interested parties, this Report addresses Phase 1 of the customer service rules review, which was intended to look at:
- The current regulatory framework for gas distributors and whether it should be aligned with the regulatory framework for electricity distributors;
- Customer service rules addressing security deposits, billing and payments, and disconnection for non-payment; and
- Service charges relating to non-payment of accounts.
Based upon lengthy consultation and research efforts through Phase 1, and the OEB’s own experience with customer service rules over the past ten years, the OEB’s Report on the Review of Customer Service Rules for Utilities proposes a number of changes to existing customer service rules. The proposed changes are summarized in a five page chart that sets out the current rules, alongside the proposed new rules in key areas, including security deposits, minimum payment periods, equal billing, disconnections and reconnections. Among the most significant proposed changes or updates are the following items:
- Billing: Distributors will be required to offer equal billing programs to more customer groups (including small business customers and customers without automatic withdrawal). Distributors must extend their payment deadline from 16 calendar days to 20 calendar days.
- Disconnections: Distributors will be required to provide longer notice before proceeding with disconnections (14 calendar days versus the current 10 calendar days), and disconnection notices will be invalid unless they contain all prescribed information. The OEB confirmed that the winter disconnection ban will continue.
- Reconnections: Distributors will not be permitted to levy a reconnection charge to low-income customers, and reconnection charges for all customers will become payable over up to three months.
- Gas Distributors: The OEB will prescribe customer service rule requirements for gas distributors that are similar to those in place for electricity distributors.
The OEB has invited interested parties to comment on the proposed changes to customer service rules detailed in the Report on the Review of Customer Service Rules for Utilities. Comments must be submitted by October 5, 2018. We expect that the OEB will issue proposed updated and new customer service rules for electricity distributors, gas distributors and unit sub-metering providers after the comment period has ended.
Finally, in the cover letter to interested parties, the OEB indicates that it expects to initiate Phase 2 of the review of Customer Service Rules for Electricity and Gas consumers this fall. In the second phase, the OEB will review rules relating to management of customer accounts and related service charges, correction of billing errors and whether changes are required to the current Reporting & Record Keeping Requirements (RRRs). The OEB also plans to review prepaid metering and associated issues in Phase 2 of the review (this is an item that arose in a recent Hydro One proceeding - see here).