Several residents of Whitfield Town in St Andrew, like 57-year-old Mavis Brown, have admitted that for years they never used to pay for electricity, but think the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is dealing them a hard blow now that they are regularised.
"A wickedness dis. How me fi a get bill fi $27,000 a month and me nuh have more things than anybody? Worse, me not working so me can't afford fi pay me bills," said Brown.
"I think inner-city communities should get a flat rate thing because most of us not working."
Winsome Callum, head of corporate communications at the JPS, noted that there could be a number of factors for residents getting what they refer to as "too high" electricity bills.
"One has to bear in mind that paying for electricity is a new experience for several of these customers. They, therefore, have had no idea or historical experience of how much electricity costs. So initially, the unrestrained use of electricity can lead to high consumption and by extension high bills," said the corporate communications head.
She said another factor could be the customers benefitting from a "soft, interest-free loan" from JPS to wire their homes when they were getting regularised.
"These customers pay back what they can afford on a monthly basis, in addition to their present electricity consumption. It is therefore important to see how these bills are broken out, to see what the customer is paying for, and if they are repaying a loan in addition to their present consumption," she stated.
paying up outstanding sums
Callum added that several other customers were also paying down on outstanding moneys, due to the fact that they were once customers who started stealing after a while, some over a prolonged period.
"In many instances, customers have not been paying their current bills, so the bill amount presented actually represents several months of consumption and non-payment. The balance brought forward combined with the current bill amount will result in a relatively high figure," she said.
"These are just some possibilities of what could result in the [amounts on the] bills."
Some residents, like 50-year-old Alexander McKenzie, said they weren't even going to fool themselves by taking the service. They said they have no option but to use candles and flashlight.
"Me can't afford it so me not even look that way. A candle and flashlight me use," said McKenzie, who has lived in the community for more than 40 years.
He said he would definitely be interested in the prepaid system, "because me wouldn't owe them anything. When the money done, it just done. Me will only use light when me need it and gwaan work wid me candle and flashlight."
Since its islandwide introduction, Callum said JPS was experiencing varying levels of success with the Residential Advanced Metering Infrastructure.
"One of our concerns at this time is protecting the integrity of the system. While some residents in the communities are paying, the company still has to contend with tampering on the system. This tampering by residents affects the reliability of service experienced by other customers," Callum stated.
"Sometimes, as fast as JPS crew repair the breach, community members are back tampering, leading to sectional outages. The company is, at this stage, taking action to eliminate this effect on customers, as well as to improve revenue collection."