Consumers give up nearly $1 billion in claims - OUR
Edmond Campbell, Staff Reporter
NEARLY $1 BILLION in claimable amounts for breaches of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) Guaranteed Standards was not paid over to consumers during the period 2008 and 2012 by the National Water Commission (NWC) and the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) as customers failed to submit claims to the utility companies.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis had reported that the JPS had $709.1 million in claimable amounts over the four-year period for which consumers claimed $59.9 million or eight per cent of the sum that was due to them owing to breaches of the regulatory body's guaranteed standards.
Consumers also failed to cash in on the NWC for breaches of guaranteed standards, with $223.9 million in claimable amounts left almost unclaimed. Of the $223.9 million, NWC consumers only claimed $206,000 or 0.09 per cent of the amount that the company was duty-bound to pay.
"The standards require compensation, but in order to get the compensation, the consumer has to make a claim on the utility. What has been happening is that the consumer has not been making the claim so what you have seen paid out is a percentage of consumers that actually claimed, notwithstanding the utility didn't meet the standard," Albert Gordon, director general of the OUR, told members of Parliament Public Accounts Committee during Tuesday's weekly meeting.
Now the amounts that should have been claimed by consumers are no longer payable to them as the 180-day period for applying to the two utility bodies has expired, director general of the OUR, Albert Gordon, told The Gleaner in a follow-up interview.
During the committee deliberations, Gordon said the OUR had encouraged consumers to make claims on the utility companies for breaches of guaranteed standards. However, he said the regulatory body was now taking steps to make the compensation due to consumers automatic.
The auditor general had pointed out in a performance audit of the OUR that the regulatory body's guaranteed standards scheme that is intended to improve the efficiency of service delivery of utility providers is not achieving its objective.
Committee member Colin Fagan quizzed the OUR representatives about the effectiveness of the company's publicity efforts to sensitise consumers about the guaranteed standards.
Yvonne Nicholson, director of consumer affairs at the OUR, said the company would be embarking on "an all-out blitz" next year to meet with rural consumers who have been disenfranchised for years.
"By and large, the Jamaican consumer is very apathetic - they do not want to put anything in writing, they will call, raise a fuss and we do follow through with appeals, but part of what we have to deal with is the apathy of the Jamaican consumer, so we kinda need to light a fire under them now," Nicholson said.