Residents of St Andrew community scorched by JPS's high charges

Staff reporter

Monday, July 08, 2019

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Residents of Oakland Road, off the Waltham Park thoroughfare in St Andrew, are growing weary over a rising stack of estimated bills from Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS).

Residents who spoke with the Jamaica Observer explained that around October of last year, they noticed drastic fluctuations in their electricity bills when charges started coming as low as $300, then skyrocketing to huge amounts.

One resident explained that she had to pay the JPSCo in excess of $130,000 for estimated charges, almost 18 times her regular bill of approximately $7,000.

“Right now I don't have any light because my light was cut off while I was away. When I got back I started to pay off what they said I owed them which was $139,000. I finished paying it off but when I went back to them to reconnect the light, they said that I have to get an inspector to come and check to make sure everything is ok before they can put on back the light,” said Verna Taylor, a senior resident of the community.

“I am getting light from my neighbour and everything is working. Two JPSCo workers came here and I showed them that everything is working. They said they would come back but I haven't seen them,” said Taylor.

Anthony Smith, another resident said his light bill shot to $30,000, tripling in the space of two months.

“Normally the light bill come to, like $10,000, and when my sister query and them say them don't see any problem. Every month we have fi a find one bag a money fi pay light bill and nutten nuh really plug in during the day until the kids come home around 4 o'clock.”

Smith said he went as far as to change appliances in his house when advised to do so by a JPSCo officer. “All mi have is two TV, two fans and one fridge. They came and said the fridge was a old fridge and it a go burn more current. We got rid of the fridge and get a new fridge and it don't make any difference. And whenever we go to pay, they keep telling us that they are not getting any reading, so we must just pay what we have,” Smith said.

The residents' suspicion of overestimated charges comes as a result of a relocation of their personal meters from their premises to an enclosure housing multiple meters placed on the electrical poles in the community.

“They changed the meter from about three years ago and up on the light post. From ever since I have been getting the high bill,” said another resident, Kareen Smith.

“When them just put in the meter, the first bill came at $300, the second was $700, then $1,500 and then there was a big jump. At the time I stopped paying because the most my bill used to come to was $7,000. It end up and reach about $50,000 and when I went in they put me on a payment plan, and mi pay them off,” Smith said.

However, the resident explained that in February, she noticed a repeat of the drastic low to high charges when her bill went from $300 in that month to $49,000 in June.

“Earlier in the year when the bill come to $20,000 I went to JPS and the customer service person tell me to pay what I have. Every time I go, that is what they keep on telling me. I ask them why it still keep going up and them cyah tell me what happening.

“It started in February. First a $300 bill came, and then $1,500 and it keep going up. I went to them again and the lady (JPSCo representative) told me it is an estimated bill because there is no actual reading.

“Right now my bill is $49,000 and they cannot tell me the reading on the meter, there is no reading. This supposed to be paid by July. Every month it comes, I pay $10,000 on it because I don't want my light disconnect. So why it keep going up?” a puzzled Smith asked.

The fact of the JPSCo no longer being able to read their own meters was also an issue for some residents. Another resident, Tina Francis, told the Observer that when the system change occurred, residents were told that they would be given a means by which they could read their energy consumption. This promise, however, was never fulfilled.

“They changed the system around this area where we don't have any meter anymore. Nobody on Oakland Road have a personal meter anymore. Now, most people get their bill on the phone. You hardly see the bill come through the mail anymore,” said Francis.

“They said that we were going to get something that we can plug in to read your meter. But most people don't have time for that because people going to work, so we just working with what they are telling us.”

Francis told the Observer that her bill went from $7,600 in March this year, to $14,400 the following month. “Now I'm getting June bill and it come to $31,527. It is like every month them put on $7,000 more on it and it is not me alone. My neighbour's charges are way up there.”

In a sit down with the Sunday Observer on Friday, Director of Information Technology at JPSCo, Hugh Hamilton said that their investigations revealed a defect with a meter box inside the community whereby actual readings were not being communicated to the company.

“There are different reasons why an estimate can occur but in this particular situation there was a defect on the DCU (data concentrator unit). This is not the first time that we would have seen that particular defect and in the general case what happens is surges go through the box.

The surges, Hamilton noted can be caused by faults that can take place which he said is sometimes caused by unsolicited persons connecting unto the network.

“Somebody can remove the grounding on the box to do whatever connections they want to do”, said Hamilton. He, however, noted that no evidence of an illegal connection inside the meter box was found.

Media and Public Relations Officer, Audrey Williams told the Observer that the energy company is seeking to eliminate estimated bills altogether.

“If you were getting estimated bills because we didn't have an actual reading, when we get an actual reading and it shows that the person has been paying more than they should be paying, then the next bill might be $200 because we have adjusted for the extra that you paid”.

Williams also said that customers who receive two consecutive estimated bills are compensated on their third bill, which she said is a possible explanation for the fluctuations residents notice in their light bills.

“It's an automatic compensation of $1,650. So it minuses that amount from the third bill that they get. If they were already getting a low bill and then they get the compensation, it's going to drive it even lower. So in addition to the adjustment for the actual reading, you are also compensated for the breach in sending you more than two consecutive estimated bills,” said Williams.

She further noted that of the approximately 660,000 JPSCo customers, about five per cent of customers receive estimated bills.

“We are presently estimating a small fraction of our actual customer base. Estimated bills is one of the things we are trying to drive down this year. We want to eliminate it. Because we are presently doing a meter upgrade programme islandwide, when all of these meters are rolled out within the next five years, it will be a sliver of customers who would be getting estimated bills,” said Williams.

In the meantime, self-employed furniture artisan, Earl Green who goes by the name Mr Early, said that he is frustrated that he is not able to get the actual reading from his meter, and is now saddled with increasing estimated charges.

“The majority of the people on Oakland Road is having the same problem with them bill. Mi get a high bill and mi a wonder weh mi a do a day time fi get a $8,000 and $9,000 bill,” said Green, who said that although he runs a furniture shop at home, he had never been charged in excess of $3,000 monthly.

“All of a sudden it gone way a $8,000 and mi nah do nuttn at the house. I do furniture work from home but my business attach to the same meter and I have been using the same light from ever since and I was not getting this high bill. About three months ago now mi start see the bill going up and every time mi guh dung a JPS them tell me the same thing. Mi cyah bother with them.

“Mi ask them fi send persons fi come check mi house. Them say mi fi get licensed electrician fi check if mi have any leakage. Mi get that. Them come and look and see what mi have in the house, and the same thing continue.

“The first time a JPS man come him say is a estimate bill them give mi. Mi ask him why mi cyah get a actual reading, mi get horse dead and cow fat. Them never tell me anything fi convince me, but mi just take it same way because mi nuh want live inna the darkness. If me nuh pay it, mi a guh inna darkness so mi just gwaan live with it same way,” said Green.

“Not even fan mi use a night time. Mi sacrifice myself just to pay the light bill a month time. When mi daughter go to pay the bill them telling her is estimate bill and she must pay what she can. Why them not getting any reading from the metre? Them just come to kill us out with light bill,” said another senior resident, Francella Smith.

The JPSCo has been under the microscope again in recent weeks, following several complaints by residents of Corporate Area communities of overcharging.

One resident of Bull Bay, St Andrew, Jacqueline Barnes told the Observer recently that she has been encountering sheer hell with high bills, due to what she described as the incompetence of the monopoly electricity provider.

That matter, the JPSCo said, was being rectified.

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