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Central Hudson faulted by Hinchey for billing processes

Central Hudson faulted by Hinchey for billing processes
Written by Publishing Team

Senator Michael Henchy and County Human Rights Commissioner Tyrone Wilson.

State Senator Michael Henchy joined Ulster County Human Rights Commissioner Tyrone Wilson in Kingston on December 14 to announce legislation that seeks to curb large swings in utility bills, often caused by usage estimates.

The proposed new state regulations come amid ongoing billing issues that have affected more than 10,000 Central Hudson customers, according to company figures.

Speaking outside her local office at 721 Media Center on Broadway, Henchy shared stories of homeowners, renters and small businesses who were shocked when they received exorbitant, sometimes thousands of dollars in bills from Central Hudson.

She told how a voter in Tannersville, Greene County, saw the bill jump from $70 to $350 in a one-month period. A Stone Ridge resident used less electricity the following month but still had to pay the same amount. One senior, fixed-income senior in Catskill saw his bill rise by $158.

Perhaps the most egregious example was a small company in New Paltz that saw its bill rise from $32 to more than $5,000, even after installing renewable energy on site and paying upfront costs for such an installation to save money along the way. With the planet, Henchy said.

When asked about the overpayments, Hinchey said she feels the money should be returned to people for that month and the following month. But she admitted it offers little comfort to those who can’t afford to pay the really high bill in the first place.

In a phone interview with Hudson Valley OneCentral Hudson spokesman Joe Jenkins said about 11,000 customers were affected, representing about three percent of the 309,000 utility customers, particularly those enrolled in “add-on programs” such as rooftop solar.

Jenkins blamed the billing issues on the tool that replaces an outdated 1980s customer information system. He said the change was driven by the need for an updated software system that accommodates an ever-increasing range of power options.

“The relocation is the cause of these billing problems,” Jenkins said. He added that while the system contains flags to prevent outliers from coming out, sometimes a few slip through.

Jenkins said that any customers who receive a bill that seems too high should contact utilities to make sure everything is accurate before they pay.

Automatic payment, automatic overdraft

Henchy said she’s also heard examples of people using Central Hudson’s automatic billing who charge them exorbitant amounts, sometimes with disastrous consequences, especially for low-income individuals and seniors.

“People use automatic payments to make sure they don’t miss a bill, to make sure they don’t get charged overdraft fees; to make sure if they’ve missed something, to make sure they can stay on time and build credit,” Henchy said. One thing they have an estimated bill hundreds or thousands of over budget, plan for, or can afford, they are now facing overdraft fees, struggling to pay their other bills, will face bad credit, or checks on their credit report — which we know is one of the most important things we have right now.”

She said these problems could not have come at a worse time as food and housing prices have skyrocketed leaving many individuals struggling or unable to make ends meet.

Jenkins admitted that the utility has some “very isolated” cases of inaccurate billing making it into customers’ autopay accounts, sometimes even forcing them into overdraft cases. In those cases, he said, the department had refunded these invoices and any overdraft fees.

“We’re doing everything we can to get that right,” Jenkins said. If a client has to file a report with a credit bureau, the utilities will do everything they can to make sure the negative effects are removed.

Strive to control a problem beyond software problems

But Hinchey said the problem goes beyond software issues and lies with utility companies like Central Hudson, National Grid and Con Edison using estimated utility readings when a gas or electric utility predicts how much power a customer would use that month based on their past. the use. This often results in increased prices for customers, she said.

The legislation proposed by Saugerties Democrat aims to curb this billing method that she says has caused significant hardship to low-income residents in her area.

If passed, the legislation would require the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, to develop a best practice estimate formula that would limit the number of times the estimated billing formula can be used to three times per year out of the current six. The proposed law would also set a November 1, 2022 deadline for the agency to create this new billing standard after a thorough review of the estimated billing procedures used by all utilities in New York State.

Jenkins said that although the grading system is not perfect, it strives for a compromise that sorts out the highs and lows while trying to find a compromise. It pays with a utility budget billing plan that takes into account customer usage over the past year or two and then comes up with a monthly figure for 11 months, with the 12th month being a budget month where customers may pay less if they use less energy or a little more if they consume more.

Customers do not get their utility bills

Hinche also spoke of other occasions where customers did not receive their invoices in a timely manner and then encountered late fees and other fees in addition to their late payments.

Jenkins acknowledged there have been cases of Central Hudson customers, again primarily those using the additional power options, who went a few months without getting a bill. He said the tool has engaged in outreach via email, traditional mail and phone, but cautioned that the bill could show a greater credit for unbilled time.

Jenkins said the facilities will provide these customers with alternative payment options, including a payment plan with no time limit.

He said utilities will not terminate service for these customers or charge late fees. “We do everything with clients on an individual basis.”

Commissioner for Human Rights Wilson emphasized the importance of actual monitoring of the meters pointing to examples of places where Central Hudson has not read the meters for months, or where a home has been sold and the person who moves in inherits the bills. He said it was the facilities’ responsibility to make sure that didn’t happen.

“This is the profession they have chosen to work in and it is a responsibility.” These billing issues are evidence that the utility’s monitoring system has let everyone down and that the public is paying the price for their failure, Wilson said. “Central Hudson … the money is in their banks and people have to wait to see when they get their money back,” he said. Wilson invited everyone to stand behind the bill. “This is a disaster,” he said.

Bi-monthly readings are a long-term practice

Bimonthly meter readings for resident customers have been standard practice since World War II, Jenkins said. He said utilities only moved to monthly billing in 2016 to comply with state regulations.

Henchy said she’s heard stories of people who went to their counter to take a picture of him to prove the numbers were wrong and found the estimate very wrong but never heard back after emailing their photos.

She also noted that tenants may not be so lucky when they do not have access to the utility rooms where the meters are located in their apartment buildings. “What are they supposed to do?” asked Henshe.

When asked about customers who take pictures of their energy meters and submit them to the facility, Jenkins said some customers have switched to taking pictures of their meters every month rather than the estimation method, but it’s by no means a mandatory program.

finding a solution

Henchy urged anyone who received an exorbitant bill to call and report her district office because the senator is seeking not only accurate statistics of how many people have suffered, but also for her staff to be able to call on their behalf.

She acknowledged that often people don’t have the time to spend hours on the phone with Central Hudson to battle those bills. She noted that fear can also be a factor, especially for undocumented families who may be afraid to reach out to government agencies such as the Public Service Commission.

“We cannot use this as a solution for customers, and the customer should not be held accountable or held responsible for fixing the problem the company is causing,” Henchy said.

Jenkins said the tool puts “full resources” into solving the problem. “We know that our customers deserve a higher level of service,” he said.

He said Central Hudson is doing all it can to help affected customers by the end of the year. But he cautioned that the tool still doesn’t have a defined finish line when every bug or anomaly from the new software is resolved.

Jenkins recommends that anyone with billing issues should call Central Hudson at 845-452-3700. He said the tool has doubled the number of staff in its call center to help reduce waiting times for billing cases. He said the tool also has an online chat option available on its website and customers can also communicate via direct messages on the facilities’ social media pages. Jenkins emphasized that to protect privacy, customers should not place sensitive information in public posts on their social media channels.

“We work on a one-to-one basis with clients while our IT and software contractors work seven days a week,” Jenkins said. “We expect customer service to return by early next year.”

Looking to the future, Jenkins said Central Hudson will comply with any regulations issued by the PSC if the bill is passed and if monthly meter readings are required, utilities will “make adjustments internally in order to comply with that,” he said.

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