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Customer Complaints and Queries PDF Print

Printed in the Business Monday newspaper on August 23rd, 2010 

The Fair Trading Commission receives and responds to many customer queries and complaints on a daily basis with respect to utility bills for electricity and landline telephone services. These services are provided by the two regulated service providers, the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) and Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Limited (C&W) respectively.

Complaints and queries for BL&P generally relate to the frequency of interim or estimated bills, while C&W customers have questions related to assumed rate increases and bill payments. For example, C&W customers often ask if they are obligated to pay a bill even though they have not received one in the mail. The answer is yes. A residential telephone is charged at a flat rate and the customer monthly receives utility bills with a printed due date. The billing cycle does not usually change from month to month.

Consequently, customers should know the date on which they have to settle their bill. In the absence of a physical bill customers can call C&W’s or BL&P’s billing enquires numbers to find out the amount owed. They can also access the BL&P’s website for billing information or if the usual amount is known, they may proceed to settle the bill on or before the due date. In respect of their telephone service, non-payment of bills by the due date may result in disconnection from the C&W network, and customers may incur a re-connection fee to re-establish service.

The same obtains with regard to non-payment of electricity service from the BL&P. However, based on information received by the Commission there are less complaints about disconnection compared with the frequency of queries relating to the BL&P’s meter reading. These complaints usually concern the readings on interim and estimated bills which some customers believe are not a true reflection of their electricity consumption.

The BL&P issues these interim and estimated bills because there is a finite amount of meter readers at the BL&P, who are required to cover the company’s over 115,000 customers. In order to ensure that every residential and general service customer receives a monthly bill based on a meter reading requires significant expansion in the number of meter readers, which would be at the expense of customers. To avoid this, the company sends meter read bills every other month to customers.

If a meter is read in August the customer will receive a bill which says “R” which indicates that the meter was read. In the following month the customer will receive a bill marked “I” which denotes interim. This means that the meter was not read and the interim bill is an equivalent to the average of the past usage based on the last three months’ meter readings collected by the company. If the situation arises where a meter is to be read in October and the meter reader cannot access the property to read the meter, then an “estimated” bill denoted by the letter “E” is issued to the customer. When customers receive an estimated bill they should immediately call the company to determine why this situation occurred. Customers should ensure that their premises are accessible to BL&P meter readers to reduce incidences of estimated billing.

Several complaints are received from customers about loss of service due to C&W line faults. To avoid disconnection customers should pay this bill and if the fault is not rectified within the target time-frame they should seek redress under the C&W Standards of Service Guaranteed Standard 2 (GTS2). This standard deals with the speed with which faults due to failure of the service provider’s equipment or systems are repaired. If the allotted time for repair of the fault has been exceeded, customers can claim compensation which is paid by the company in the form of a credit to the following month’s telephone bill.

Customers who dispute bills should write to the service provider detailing their complaint. In the event of an investigation, this action provides evidence that the customer attempted to settle the matter before bringing their complaint to the Commission.

hFor more information, customers may visit the Commission to collect copies of the Standards of Service for electricity and land line telephone services, or access this information via the Commission’s webpage at www.ftc.gov.bb. Customers may also become familiar with the terms and conditions of C&W and the BL&P which can be accessed at the service providers’ offices, sales outlets or on their web pages.

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