This release was issued under a previous government.

As winter approaches, the Alberta Utilities Commission has put procedures in place to identify customers with disconnected utility services, determine those who are vulnerable and refer them to support agencies. Procedures are also now in place to ensure extensive attempts are made by utility retailers to contact and reconnect any customers identified as vulnerable.

“The changes being announced today are the result of an extensive and cooperative multi-stakeholder review that went far beyond just looking at how we could sharpen the utilities’ practices,” said the AUC’s director of external relations, Jim Law. “We involved agencies such as the Red Cross, Alberta government support agencies, Alberta’s privacy commissioner and the Utilities Consumer Advocate, to ensure everyone would also be working together to get people at risk the help they might need.”

The AUC and stakeholders had been examining disconnection and reconnection practices prior to the release of an inquiry report into the death of John Davis, who died in 2006. That inquiry was limited to one specific incident and a narrow range of companies on the gas side. The inquiry report, released in May, 2011, called for an extension of the length of the winter moratorium period on disconnections and an improved reporting process for deaths, injury and property damage.

The AUC has already acted on the Davis inquiry report by extending the moratorium period immediately upon the release of the report. The changes announced today not only confirm the implementation of the after-the-fact reporting process recommendation contained in the Davis inquiry report,  they  pull  together  a number of  stakeholders and procedures to focus on prevention, so that similar tragedies do not occur again.

“The Canadian Red Cross was pleased to participate in this review,” stated Anette Jorgensen, Operations Manager Calgary & Area. “Referrals made to the Red Cross, other support agencies and the Utilities Consumer Advocate go a long way towards ensuring people don’t fall through the cracks. For example, the Red Cross offers financial support to cover damage deposits or payment of utility arrears.”

The specific measures announced today include the following.

For customers initially disconnected for non-payment but remaining disconnected at the start of the winter period (November 1), whose bills have been paid but have not made reconnection arrangements (this would include the situation encountered by John Davis, whose mother had paid his arrears and reconnection fee).

  • The utility retailer will prepare a report by November 1, 2011 identifying such customers who remain disconnected.
  • For all residences, the retailer will attempt to reach the customer by phone to arrange reconnection, a total of three times over three days, at different times.
  • If telephone attempts are unsuccessful, the distributor may make a site visit or leave notice at the residence.

Customers remaining disconnected for non-payment at the start of the winter period
(November 1, 2011):

  • The retailer will produce a report by November 1, 2011 identifying disconnected sites under a number of criteria.
  • Contact will be attempted with customers by November 7, 2011 to facilitate reconnection arrangements.
  • Follow-up will be made to identify some indication of vulnerability (disability, crisis, mental difficulties) and facilitate referrals to applicable government agencies or call centres.
  • By mid-November a sample list will be provided to the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) for further follow-up because some customers in arrears are unwilling to speak to their retailer. The UCA may be able to make social agency referrals or facilitate reconnection.

Year-round customers disconnected or facing possible disconnection

  • At any time during the year, not just the winter season, family or friends will be provided with basic information allowing them to pay arrears and facilitate reconnection.

The procedures announced today by the AUC  fulfill a commitment made by the AUC to complete a broad review of disconnection and reconnection practices between  utility retailers and distributors,  and entrench unified procedures by October 15, 2011. (AUC’s statement on May 24, 2011).

The Alberta Utilities Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of the province of Alberta with the authority over terms of service for gas and electric utilities.

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Media inquiries may be directed to:

Jim Law
AUC Director, External Relations
Phone: 403-512-3417
Email: jim.law@auc.ab.ca

Leila Daoud
Red Cross, Public Affairs Coordinator
Phone: 780-504-4535