News10NBC Investigates: How to fight back against RG&E billing errors and shut-off notices

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Despite promising not to charge late fees until at least April 15, 2023, RG&E continues to threaten customers with a 1.5% fee for late payments and continues to send shut-off notices to customers who it claims are behind on bills. 

The problem? Many of the customers getting those notices, aren’t really behind or are working through billing errors with the company or state regulators. 

RG&E has admitted, during a year-long News10NBC investigation, that its old billing system couldn’t keep up with the changes needed to accommodate community aggregation, solar and renewable options and it’s still working out the kinks with a new billing system it installed over Labor Day weekend. 

The President of RG&E also told News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke, that a staffing shortage in the customer service department has left agents unable to keep up with demand for bill corrections. 

In November of 2022, RG&E and NYSEG announced that late payment charges would be suspended for the winter season as an apology of sorts for the frustration that these billing issues have caused.  But, if you look at your monthly bill, it still threatens a 1.5% late fee if you don’t pay by the due date and even worse, the utility continues to threaten shut-offs, even for some customers who are not behind on their bills.

Jeff Nasca tells News10NBC, he received a large bill in December and called to inquire about it, “then I get a letter saying I owed $80.50, they claimed they were going to shut me off for $80” he says.  Nasca had made a payment before the due date so he called RG&E right away, “the lady couldn’t find the $80 charge on my account but they saw the shut-off request and she said I only owed $31,” he adds. 

Adryan Nesser is in the middle of a billing dispute with RG&E too, “they are not allowed to shut off our gas or electric if there is a complaint filed with the NYSDPS,” he says yet he got a notice that says if he doesn’t pay, he’ll be turned off this month. 

Richard Berkley is the Consumer Advocate at the New York State Department of Public Service, “they should come here because we can help,” he tells News10NBC. 

Once a customer files a formal complaint with NYSDPS, the utility has to respond within a week.  If it doesn’t make the situation right, the complaint can be escalated, “you are basically in a room with the utility, with expert staff from the agency and you and then you’re allowed to present your case,” Berkley explains.

If a customer still isn’t satisfied with the outcome, they can appeal to the full Public Service Commission, “it’s heard by the independent commissioners so, these are people who are selected by the Governor for this important public service, they are confirmed by the Senate,” Berkley explains, “they stop in their regular duties, they look at your appeal, they contemplate it and then they announce the results in a public setting.”  While those processes play out with NYSDPS, “that halts the collection activity of the company for however long it takes,” Berkley explains. 

There are a host of other rules and regulations when it comes to shut-offs too, especially in the winter.  According to NYS Public Service law, service cannot be shut off by the utility if:

-A final termination notice has not been sent to you.
-The amount owed was billed and due more than a year ago, and because of no fault of yours, your utility did not begin termination procedures.   
-A doctor certifies to your utility that there is a medical emergency.
-You have a billing dispute filed with your utility or the PSC concerning the amount owed and you pay the portion of the bill that is not in dispute.
-You make full payment of the amount owed when your utility comes to shut off service.
-You make a payment agreement with your utility which covers the amount owed. 

If you qualify for the elderly, blind or disabled protections, you should immediately notify your utility so it can code your account with this information.  When your utility is notified by your doctor that a medical emergency exists which will be aggravated by the lack of utility service, it has to keep your service on for 30 days.

The notification may be made by phone but must be followed within five business days by written certification, which includes required identification information of the certifying authority. This certificate may be renewed for an additional 30 days if the doctor explains why the lack of service would aggravate your medical emergency and the expected length of time the condition will last, and you must show why you are unable to pay your utility bill. If your medical condition is chronic, a longer time period can be approved.

During the cold weather period of November 1 to April 15, your utility has to make special efforts to determine if disconnection of your heat-related service will cause a problem to your health and safety. It will attempt to contact you or another adult in your home by phone or in person at least three days before the scheduled service shutoff, and again the day of the service shutoff, to determine whether shutting off your heat-related service could cause serious harm to the health or safety of any resident in your home.

If the utility finds that harm might result, it must notify the local Department of Social Services, which will then conduct its own investigation. Meanwhile your utility cannot shut off your service for another 15 business days.  If the utility finds that you may be unable to protect yourself from neglect or hazardous situations, it will notify an agency, such as your local Department of Social Services, to help you, and continue your heat-related service for at least another 15 business days

If your heat-related service is shut off and your utility was unable to make contact with an adult at your home prior to service disconnection, it will attempt to determine whether anyone is living in your residence and if so, whether there might be serious harm to that person’s health or safety. If there is reason to believe that there might be harm to a person as a result of your service being shut off, your utility will restore your service for 15 business days and notify the local Department of Social Services so that it can investigate.

Also keep in mind, Utilities can only shut off your service between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, so you have an opportunity to get it restored.  

In a statement to News10NBC, a spokeswoman for RG&E says: “similar to the shut-off moratorium RG&E observed during the pandemic, recent relief efforts for customers like late payment charge suspension and bill relief credits are available, and we are administering both programs now.  Customers receiving shut-off notices now should know that the notices enable them to apply for emergency assistance. The federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) requires RG&E to send these shut-off notices to allow customers to be eligible for this emergency assistance. We must issue these notices in order for our customers in need to apply for those benefits and we do so when they haven’t responded to previous notices we’ve sent them to reconcile. Currently, we are not disconnecting any residential customers. These notices are procedural and enable the customer to apply for assistance.”

To file a formal complaint with the NYSDPS, click here.

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