Judging from available information, the issue of over-estimated electricity billing for post-paid electricity consumers may be far from being resolved. An investigation by Power Talkback showed that over-estimated billing partly accounts for a significant percentage of debts that consumers owe the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.
A consumer named Patrick, who lives in the Ajuwon area of Ogun State, complained that he received ‘outrageous’ PHCN bills, despite the prevailing inadequate power supply in the area.
Patrick’s letter reads in part, “I was seriously taken aback when I received my August bill and it was N3,156 as against the N760 I got in June. Am I paying more for darkness? Irrespective of the hike in tariff, I don’t know why I should get this outrageous bill. Meanwhile, I am yet to be allocated a prepaid meter despite payments made since 2007.” But this is just one among many cases of this nature experienced by electricity consumers in Nigeria.
However, SATURDAY PUNCH learnt that consumers could resolve issues of over-estimated bills at the Customer Care Units established by the DISCOs. But, if they encounter delay or failure in the handling of the issue, they could petition the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission against the arbitrary billing by electricity distribution companies or refer to the NERC customers’ forum.
The Chairman, NERC, Mr. Sam Amadi, had stated the commission’s resolve to end the practice of arbitrary billing to protect the interest of consumers. “Consumers can petition us once they are convinced that they have been billed arbitrarily,” Amadi had said.
A statement posted on NERC’s website described estimated billing as a standard practice used in many countries around the world to bill electricity consumers, where meter readings cannot be obtained in a particular month.
He said a huge percentage of Nigerian consumers were being billed, based on estimates. But he added that the commission had developed a clear methodology for estimated billing that would ensure that consumers were not ripped off.
In particular, he said consumers without meters were oblivious of the methods and procedures applied by the distribution companies to compute their monthly bills hence, they see it as illegal.
The NERC said that, as part of its effort to protect the interest of the consumers and to establish appropriate consumer rights and obligations on the provision and use of electricity services, it had directed the DISCOs to set up Customer Care Units within their premises and other locations within their areas of operation in order to handle complaints from customers.
The CCU is expected to be the first point for all customer complaints.
Meanwhile, the Principal Manager, Public Affairs, Ikeja DISCO, Mr. Pekun Adeyanju, has acknowledged that consumers can refer their complaints about alleged over-estimation of bills to the CCUs located at PHCN offices.
He said the computerised centres have been adequately empowered to initiate the accounts reconciliation process by first retrieving the PHCN account of the consumers and thereafter determining the next step to take. “The issue of over- estimation is subject to findings from the investigation by the CCUs. But they are adequately empowered to handle all such issues.
“The consumer may believe that he has been arbitrarily billed, but the records will reflect if indeed that is the state of things. Basically, what triggers higher billing is the increased amount of energy consumption by customers but consumers who feel that they have been unfairly billed should approach the customer care centres,” he said.
Similarly, the Principal Manager, Public Affairs, Eko DISCO, Mr. Godwin Idemudia, says if a consumer believes he has been over-billed, he should approach the PHCN office close to him and register his complaint.
He claimed that Eko DISCO no longer had issues with estimated billing, saying, “If the over-estimation claim is found to be our fault, it will be resolved but if it is based on the amount of energy consumed by the customer, he has to pay.
“You know consumers do not like to accept that they consume more energy. They say they have nothing in their houses forgetting that the pressing iron, hot plate cooker and lights draw significant energy.
“But if the bills have accumulated and he wants it resolved, he could approach the PHCN office to do a written agreement allowing him to spread the payment over a given period. For instance, if he is owing N30,000, he could be asked to pay N3,000 for 10 months.
“The truth is that estimation is a thing of the past in our company in fact, we are giving out energy saving bulbs within two weeks to encourage customers on conservation of energy.”