'Hopeless quagmire': Ombud highlights Hydro One complaints
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin. Michael Peake/QMI Agency
You can put lipstick on a slippery pig, but it’s still one greasy piece of pork.
That’s the message we got from Andre Marin, the province’s crusading ombudsman as he released his annual report Monday.
His office is still piling up complaints from irate Hydro One customers angry at the giant electricity utility’s shocking billing practices.
Hydro One became a target for Marin earlier this year after he received thousands of reports about Hydro One’s faulty billing practices.
Among the complaints, people who signed up for pre-authorized payments found their accounts cleaned out. Customers who had been getting bills for $200 a month suddenly had their bills spike to thousands of dollars. And they had no choice about paying.
In a shake-down that would put a con artist to shame, Hydro One simply emptied out their accounts.
Marin told reporters Monday his office now has now received 7,961 complaints.
I’m not surprised. Hydro One is one of the most arrogant, out-of-touch organizations I’ve ever dealt with.
Marin said dealing with the giant utility is like wrestling a “slippery pig” — which is an accurate description, from my experience with them.
Complaints ranged from unintelligible billing, erratic billing and unexplained withdrawals from customers’ accounts.
There were also cases of overbilling, lack of meter readings and smart meter malfunctions, Marin said.
His favourite story is that of a customer whose house had burned down and who continued to get a bill from Hydro One.
“It’s actually quite incredible,” Marin told reporters.
“For many of these people, it has been a hopeless quagmire and we started this investigation because we felt it was like wrestling with a slippery pig,” he said.
Marin said that while Hydro One has been co-operative, there’s still work to do.
“Hydro One may have staunched the bleeding, but the patient is still critical,” he said.
Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello responded to Marin’s report saying the utility is “working tirelessly,” to fix the problems.
“Hydro One has reviewed the ombudsman’s annual report and would like its customers to know that we have been working tirelessly — and have made progress — to resolve the customer service issues currently before us.
“We are taking the opportunity to not only resolve technical problems that resulted from introducing a new billing system, but to also improve service through new customer-friendly policies and by changing our customer service culture,” Marcello said in a statement.
I’ll believe that when I see it.
The fact they’re still sending out erroneous bills tells me they haven’t yet got the message.
We’re paying the people at this bloated organization hefty salaries.
Marcello made $724,916 in 2013. For that price, he should have got it right the first time.
The Sunshine List of employees making more than $100,000 on the public dime records page after page of fatcats at Hydro One pulling down massive salaries.
For those kinds of bucks, we should be getting brilliant service.
Marcello is blaming problems on a new billing system.
No doubt they got the same people who piddled $1 billion down the drain on the non-existent eHealth electronic records system to build their billing program.
On another front, Marin pointed out a lack of communication has left countless people receiving child support payments through the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) out of pocket.
One woman was ripped off of $8,000 over 14 years in child suppport payments.
“Something is wrong when you have two branches of government that are not talking and producing these kind of problems for the most vulnerable people in our society,” Marin told reporters.
That’s outrageous. First, FRO support payments are not tax-funded benefits. The father of that child paid support to FRO in good faith expecting they’d get to his child.
The government took money that should have paid for kids’ food and clothes, chewed it up — and swallowed it whole.
How disgusting. Let’s hope no kids went hungry as a result of this monstrous incompetence.
Once Marin’s staff raised the issue with FRO, they learned that an employee had manually reviewed ODSP records on her own initiative and identified at least 350 similar cases.
The ministry has so far reimbursed more than $845,000 to families who were short-changed.
In other findings, Marin reported the province has yet to replace the controversial Public Works Protection ACT (PWPA).
The secretly-invoked five-metre rule was brought in under the PWPA, an obscure piece of wartime legislation aimed at protecting us from hostile armies.
During the G20, the PWPA was invoked and turned on homegrown activists exercising their democratic rights.
Two attempts to replace the act have died on the order paper. The last attempt died last month when the house was dissolved before the election.
The report raised concern that the PWPA is still on the books in the run-up to the Pan-Am Games.
“The PWPA is clearly an unconstitutional piece of legislation that’s still on our books today that grants the power to conduct arbitrary arrest and detentions which are clearly contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and I find it troublesome that it’s still on the books,” Marin told reporters.
The report also raised concern over “ghost licences.”
A computer glitch allows some drivers with violations on their licences to continue driving.
“There are many cases outstanding where people who might well have their licence suspended for drunk driving are still out there because the ministry has not reconciled those records,” Marin added.
The ministry is reporting progress in dealing with the issue, he said.
“It’s just paperwork and it needs to be done because public safety is a risk.”
Democratic freedoms denied. Kids denied support money from their dad. Convicted drunks cruising our streets.
And Hydro One still cleaning out the bank accounts of customers who were overbilled for electricity.
Welcome to Ontario, where we pay public servants record amounts of dough to rip us off.
Ain’t it grand?
And who’ll dig up this stuff once Marin’s term is up?