J'cans encouraged to seek redress for breaches by utility providersSaturday, March 06, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) is encouraging Jamaicans to hold utility service providers accountable to the Guaranteed Standards by seeking redress for breaches.
The Guaranteed Standards are minimum service level agreements between the OUR and the country's two main utility companies — Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) and National Water Commission (NWC) — and are aimed at ensuring value to customers.
A breach of the standards results in a compensatory payment to the affected customer or account.
Speaking in a recent interview with JIS News, Public Affairs Specialist at the OUR, Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, said that for any breach identified and accepted, the affected customer must be compensated.
“So, for example, we know that the JPS and NWC are allowed to give you estimated bills, but there is a cap on the estimated bills. How many consecutive or back-to-back estimated bills should you get from JPS or NWC, provided that they have access to your meter? The answer to that is two and that's a Guaranteed Standard,” she noted.
“If they breach it, if they give you a third one let's say if they give you the December and January estimated bill then you get another one for February and you know they have access to your meter, you know they have been to your premises to read it before, then that's a breach of your Guaranteed Standards and you must be compensated,” she stressed.
Where disconnections are concerned, Bennett Marsh explained that if the utility service provider disconnects a customer for non-payment, but the customer had already settled the outstanding balance, the service provider has 24 hours to reconnect the customer.
In the case where the customer has paid a utility bill in full but the service is interrupted due to a system glitch or an error on the part of the service provide, that is considered a wrongful disconnection.
“In the case of the JPS, they have five hours to reconnect you, in the case of the NWC they have eight hours to reconnect you and if they don't, then that's a breach of the Guaranteed Standards and you are to be compensated,” Bennett Marsh noted.
She told JIS News that the utility providers would also have breached the standards if they fail to connect a customer who has moved to a new location, within the contracted timeline.
“As long as you sign the contract and you fulfil all the obligations that they have laid out and they don't come within the time stipulated, then that's another breach,” she pointed out.
In addition, she says that “if there is a default on your meter and you report it and they recognise that there is a faulty meter, they have a timeline in which to rectify that faulty meter”.
Bennett Marsh noted that once a customer asks for an investigation into a matter pertaining to their account, there are timelines in which the utility provider should respond to that request and also execute the investigation.
The OUR public affairs specialist said the compensation for a breach is monetary and is applied to the account of the affected customers.
“This amount would be credited to your next bill so you wouldn't get it in your pocket,” she said.
In the case of JPS's residential customers, this is equivalent to the reconnection fee, which is $1,600, and for commercial customers the amount is about four times the service charge.
For NWC residential customers, the compensation is four times the service charge, which is approximately $3,000.
Bennett Marsh said the compensation to JPS customers is automatic, meaning that they do not have to fill out a claim form once the company accepts that a breach has occurred.
In the case of NWC, customers are required to complete a claim form, which is available on the NWC or OUR websites or at the NWC's offices.
Bennett Marsh said the OUR is moving towards making the NWC compensation automatic.
“In fact, we are going to be doing a comprehensive review of all the Guaranteed Standards and this is one thing that we will be looking at in respect to the NWC,” she notes.
For a full list of the Guaranteed Standards, members of the public can visit the OUR website at our.org.jm.
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