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PSEG billing issue creates nightmare for Smithtown grandmother

Joan Batchelor, of Smithtown, holds her most recent

Joan Batchelor, of Smithtown, holds her most recent PSEG electric bill on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A PSEG Long Island billing nightmare for a Smithtown grandmother got worse this week, when the utility disclosed the $1,445.85 it credited her for months of billing estimates was itself an error.

Joan Batchelor, 69, who is caring for two autistic grandchildren and on a fixed income, said her problems with PSEG began last June, when bills started arriving with estimated use rather than actual meter reads. PSEG through the winter saw its meter-reading rate drop to 76 percent from a normal 98 percent, because of weather.

But for Batchelor, whose rate requires monthly meter reads, the issue went well beyond weather. Estimated bills came for the balance of 2014 and first three months of this year, she said. She paid the bills, a total of $1,445.85. But each time she complained to the utility and was told her meter had not been read, even though she'd let the meter reader into her locked yard. "Nobody was listening to me," she said, saying the utility refused to allow her to raise her complaint to a supervisor.

In March, Batchelor called PSEG shortly after the meter reader left her house. After some discussion, the PSEG service rep mistakenly agreed to credit her for the nine months she'd received estimated bills, to the tune of $1,445.85. Batchelor said she had wanted a check instead of a credit.

On Tuesday, after Newsday asked PSEG why it couldn't cut a check, the company admitted its errors, including the issuance of the credit itself. "It's clearly a job that went wrong," PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said. "There were missteps made across different departments, and we are taking the appropriate actions to resolve the issues with the customer."

Told of the decision, Batchelor quietly hit the roof. "There's really something wrong with this picture from top to bottom," she said.

The problem, said PSEG, was a malfunctioning or "stopped" meter, which showed no usage for the past nine months. An order to replace it in October wasn't followed through. The company also improperly charged Batchelor $26 for failing to provide access to her meter, charges for which she received a $26 credit, PSEG said. The meter still was not working Wednesday.

The company also discovered that the $1,445.85 credit was an error by a service representative, who issued it after Batchelor asked that the company bill her for actual amounts rather than the estimates. The rep mistakenly believed a supervisor had approved the credit.

Because PSEG has no way to tell how much energy Batchelor's home used during the period, it used estimates based on her history in determining the $1,445.85 charge. The company drew from the erroneous credit to pay her March bill, but Weir said it won't charge her for the $136.04 in March charges, which also were based on estimates.

Batchelor isn't celebrating. "I am not a happy camper with PSEG," she said, declining to call back a supervisor who called Tuesday to straighten out the mess because, she said, "they did not give me access to a supervisor for over a year."

PSEG reads meters for most of its 1.1 million customers every other month, using estimates for the second month. This winter PSEG's meter reading rate plummeted to 76 percent from a norm of 98 percent, meaning more estimates were made through winter. In most cases, actual usage is trued up when meter readers finally show. The company said it has returned to the 97 to 98 percent rate "going forward" for the balance of 2015.

PSEG's Weir said the company plans to learn lessons from this case. "We will use this experience to improve our processes and this is not typical of the service we want to provide to our customers," he said.

Batchelor isn't buying it. "I kept calling and calling and I'm thinking, 'How many other people are being scammed that don't even realize it?' "

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