Fri | Aug 18, 2017

‘The Gleaner was wrong’ – NWC

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Charles Buchanan, corporate public relations manager, NWC.

The following is the lightly edited text of a response from the National Water Commission (NWC) to a story published last Sunday, headlined 'Water Robbery'. The Sunday Gleaner is satisfied that the story was correct and notes that the amount of money collected by the NWC was estimated based on its list of 359,000 active customers.

The National Water Commission is compelled to respond to an inaccurate, inflammatory, and misleading front-page story carried in The Sunday Gleaner on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

As was stated in the remarks attributed to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), the NWC is aware that some customers who receive recalculated bills are affected by a problem that exists in the payment incentive module, which is a separate component from our billing system.

Having identified the problem, the NWC notified the OUR of the issue and advised that it was working to have the problem corrected, at which time all customer accounts negatively affected by the problem would be retroactively adjusted.

In the meantime, through its own investigation, the NWC had already identified and made manual adjustments to more than 460 account affected by the system problem. In addition, where the NWC receives a complaint regarding the application of any fee related to a recalculated bill, the disputed charges are thoroughly investigated and, where necessary, the adjustments are manually made to the customer's account. Customers having a concern may either contact the NWC by email (customercare@nwc.com.jm), the NWC's website, telephone (1-888-CALL-NWC), or by visiting any NWC commercial office islandwide for an investigation to be initiated.

The Sunday Gleaner article totally misunderstood the issue, misrepresented the NWC's operating policy, created wildly speculative and unsubstantiated numbers, and proceeded to attribute criminal motive to the NWC's operation.

EARLY-PAYMENT INCENTIVE

Contrary to The Sunday Gleaner's assertion, the NWC does have an early-payment incentive for customers who pay more than they are billed, excepting for the glitches, which are being addressed.

The NWC does not choose to send recalculated bills based on whether the new reading is above or below the previous estimate. In fact, the policy of applying a recalculation of estimate is within the standards set by the OUR and one which the NWC has proven to be quite equitable to our customers.

Based on our checks, the problem occurs on some of the approximately 4,500 customer accounts (or approximately 1% of the NWC's customer base) are assessed late fees after receiving recalculated bills. For example, in December 2015, there were 4,816 recalculated bills assessed for late fees, in January 2016, there were 4,375, and in February 2016, there were 4,672.

This is not the same as customers who receive estimated bills, but rather a fraction of the estimated bills. Furthermore, not all recalculated accounts with late fees are actually charged the late fees in error.

The late payment fee is one component of the two payment compliance initiatives implemented by the NWC, which seek to reward customers for making bill payments on time and in full and discourage late water bill payment.

On a monthly basis, more than 100,000 NWC customers receive an incentive of $250 for making timely bill settlements. This incentive is applied as credit amount on the customer's next bill.

Conversely, a late fee of $250 is assessed for customers who fail to clear the entire balance owed before the stipulated due dates.

In some cases, a few customers are subject to a recalculated bill, which would represent a replacement billing of a past period. This normally carries a new date, which, if unpaid, will attract a late fee.

The new date indicated on the bill sometimes falls outside of the customer's normal billing period, but the Commission must adhere to same as it is in keeping with the NWC Act and billing policy to stipulate a period of 21 days after the bill date for payment.

Furthermore, as part of its continuous improvement process, the NWC is conducting a comprehensive review of the early payment incentive or late payment fee and other recently implemented initiatives.

Yours truly,

National Water Commission

Charles Buchanan

Corporate Public Relations

Manager