About 800 PSEG Long Island customers who lost service after superstorm Sandy have unpaid bills from before the storm that could trigger collections efforts, but the utility says it has enacted new safeguards to prevent it.
PSEG late last week acknowledged its records showed 800 customers had “outstanding balances” that “coincided with Sandy.” Unpaid balances are eligible for collections up to six years after the bills were incurred, according to LIPA rules.
Newsday reported last week that at least three customers had faced collections efforts in January.
But PSEG spokeswoman Brooke Houston said the utility has instituted new controls to make sure its collections department doesn’t pursue the 800. “These extra precautions will make sure these inactive balances will not be transferred to active accounts,” Houston said.
Nevertheless, the state Department of Public Service on Friday said it is “reviewing PSEG Long Island’s billing procedures for cases such as these to ensure customers are not improperly billed.”
“Customers should not be billed for periods when they were disconnected from utility services due to damage incurred by superstorm Sandy, and should not be billed in most circumstances for reconnection after they were able to rebuild,” spokesman James Denn said.
He urged customers who believe they may have been improperly billed to alert PSEG first, then try DPS Long Island if they are dissatisfied. The DPS can be reached at 800-342-3377.
Newsday reported last week that a Lindenhurst woman in January had received a PSEG collections letter, saying she owed a $195.34 “transfer” charge tied to her old account prior to the storm, which knocked out her service.
The ratepayer, Jane Carter, 83, had lost electric service for around six months after the storm, and re-established service under a new account once her home was repaired. PSEG contacted Carter after Newsday inquiries.
“They said they were very sorry it happened, said it was a misunderstanding and they’d correct it immediately,” Carter said. The $195.34 was to be deducted from her next bill.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said two of his constituents also had received letters.
Houston noted the “transfer” charge was for “electric consumption before Sandy. It is standard practice to transfer balances for electric usage from closed accounts to active accounts.”
She said the collection letters resulted from “a standard audit identifying customers with active accounts [tied to] closed accounts that have balances on them.”
Houston was unable to say how much money in back bills was tied to the 800 accounts. “We have an abundance of sensitivity to the victims of Sandy,” Houston said. As for the letters that have gone out, she said, “it won’t happen again.”