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Retailers still treating customers with disdain

Toronto Star - April 3, 2004
by Ellen Roseman

Andrew Hermans will get the natural gas price specified in his Direct Energy contract, thanks to our intervention.

After trying to correct the error for 10 months, he'd heard a variety of excuses: "It's with the processing department." "The manager has to sign off." "The system says you're with another broker." "We need to see a copy of the contract." And so on.

His story is yet another example (with more below) of how companies change their tune when we call attention to deserving customer complaints.

Hermans had endorsed a cheque in 1998, which committed him to Direct Energy's price-protection program.

The contract said he would pay a commodity price of 10.1 cents a cubic metre for the first five years and 13 cents for the next five years. Last April, however, when his gas rate was set to rise to 13 cents, it went up more than twice as high, to 28.8 cents.

Hermans wanted to know why Direct Energy had failed to keep its promise. But the Toronto-based energy and home-services company, a division of Centrica PLC, shifted the blame.

"The gas utility, which prepares and distributes all commodity bills, is unable to enter a 13 cent per cubic metre rate on a bill any more because that amount is well below market rate," said Jo Langham, director of media relations for Direct Energy.

Enbridge Gas Distribution currently charges 23.41 cents a cubic metre and Union Gas charges 22.37 cents. That's what Ontario customers pay if they haven't switched to a deregulated supplier.

While utilities adjust their rates every few months, Direct Energy offers a five-year guaranteed rate of 31.3 cents (with the price dropping by 1 cent a cubic metre after the first year).

"We are committed to ensuring that Mr. Hermans gets the full five years he is entitled to at the 13 cent rate," Langham said.

If the utility can't enter the correct price on his bill, Direct Energy will reimburse him for the difference.

We suspect Hermans is not the only Direct Energy customer with this type of contract, and we're happy to pass on other complaints.

We still don't know why it took 10 months (and our nudge) to correct the error.

... (Complaints about a chain of stores, were snipped as a second story not relevant to the above issue.)

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