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Pay every cent to avoid late payment fee - JPS

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Mcpherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business

Jamaica Public Service Company's billing system is cold and unfeeling, as one electricity consumer found out at the end of summer.

He had paid his bill on time, but was hit with a late charge anyway.

It turns out he had underpaid by two cents. So JPS' billing system knocked him with a $250 charge on his next invoice.

Now the power utility is urging customers to pay the full amount of their bills, down to the last cent, to avoid the same fate.

The advice followed queries by Sunday Business about the customer who complained that despite paying his bill on time in September, he was invoiced for the late payment fee. Sunday Business did the math - the late fee worked out to 1.25 million per cent of the two cents, even before GCT.

The customer, who turned up at the Bill Express/JPS office at East Parade in downtown Kingston, was overheard by staff talking about his perplexing experience. They whisked him away and rectified the charge.

Cashier didnt collect

It turns out that in September he tendered $5,000 to the cashier to pay his bill that then amounted to just over $4,000. It was the cashier who chose not to collect the two cents.

Asked whether customers were being charged the fee regardless of the amount owed, the JPS said a late payment fee of $250 plus GCT is automatically applied to all overdue amounts, no matter how paltry.

"We, therefore, urge customers to pay the full amount - down to the last cent - in order to benefit from the early payment incentive and avoid the added cost of a late payment fee," the utility told Sunday Business.

The early payment incentive refers to a discount of $250 to customers who pay their bills before the due date.

The JPS said the charge for owing a few cents on an account was not an indication of systemic problems relating to the billing system. The company explained that over the past three months it has been implementing a new customer information system "and as the system settles down there have been situations where customers' bills were generated with due dates outside of the regular dates that they are accustomed to".

"We tried as best as possible to keep our customers updated on these specific situations whenever they occurred. The implementation affected 60,000 customers. However, this has now normalised," the utility said.

The billing cycle has not changed because of the new customer information system but remains at the normal average of 30 days, it said.

In February last year, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell announced in Parliament that the JPS would no longer automatically disconnect customers who miss their bill payment date by up to a week, but would instead charge those customers a late fee of $250.

Customers would still be disconnected if they do not clear their arrears after a month.

The JPS also agreed then to offer a $250 discount as an incentive to customers to pay their bills on time.