Ontario Hydro has come out with simpler, easier to read electricity bills in a move that could soon be copied by other utilities like Toronto Hydro.
Instead of a statement with a lot of fine print, customers receiving the new bills will see boxes with headlines clearly stating “what do I owe?” and “when is it due” with more detailed explanations on the back page.
The change, prompted by complaints from customers that bills were difficult to understand, follows more than a year of research through surveys of 5,000 customers and testing with focus groups.
“Thirty-five per cent of the calls into our call centre are people phoning in to have their bills explained to them,” customer service executive vice-president Ferio Pugliese said Wednesday.
“It occupies a lot of time, not always leading to the best customer experience.”
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said his department has a bill redesign team that is working with the Electricity Distributors Association that will come out with recommendations and guidelines early next year.
Local electric utilities will be free to adopt them.
“Why wouldn’t you want to make it as clear as possible for ratepayers?” Thibeault said.
Toronto Hydro said it is considering next steps, noting that Hydro One got special permission from the ministry for the revamped bills.
“Currently, electricity bills in Ontario are heavily regulated and there’s been little opportunity to make changes,” Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Mallory Cunnington said in an emailed statement.
“We had actually started a bill re-design exercise of our own recently, as we know some components of our bills can be difficult to understand. However, this was put on hold when the Ministry of Energy began a bill design consultation process that has resulted in some proposed amendments to bill regulations,” she added.
“We’re now focused on making the necessary changes to our bill that will align with the regulation amendments and after this is done, we’ll determine if it makes sense to do a full-scale re-design of our bill.
The new Hydro One bills were revealed after the utility has been under fire for days over concerns it is seeking permission from the Ontario Energy Board to install prepaid meters, which critics say will hurt low-income customers.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused Hydro One of “trying to skirt the ban in wintertime hydro disconnections” and said customers “need a guarantee prepay meters will not be coming to Ontario.”
Thibeault said Hydro One officials have said “none of this will be forced onto any customer … it will be at the customer’s discretion.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith, his party’s energy critic, said he remains suspicious.
“This looks like a way for the utility, Hydro One, to ensure that high-risk customers pay their bills.”
Smith, however, praised the simpler hydro bills, which Pugliese said would be easier to send by email — saving the utility money that could be passed back to consumers.
About 200,000 of Ontario Hydro’s 1.3 million customers across the province now get their bills electronically.