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Some hit by Sandy-related fees for electric-bill ‘transfer’

A Lindenhurst ratepayer received a collections letter with

A Lindenhurst ratepayer received a collections letter with her January 2018 PSEG Long Island bill (shown), saying she owed $195.34 in back charges for reconnecting the home's electric service after Superstorm Sandy. Credit: Newsday

Some PSEG Long Island customers whose service was disconnected following superstorm Sandy have begun receiving letters from the utility’s collections department, saying they owe upward of $195 in fees tied to their previous accounts.

PSEG has told at least one lawmaker, Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), that the letters are a mistake and has promised to correct them, Kaminsky said.

But Jane Carter of Lindenhurst, who received a letter from PSEG’s “back office collections” department Jan. 11 following an “investigation,” was told she owed $195.34 by Feb. 10.

Carter’s daughter, Lorraine Cropsey, said the utility considered the charge current as of Friday, and she has stopped her mom’s automatic bank payments to the utility, incurring another $30 fee. She also has demanded proof of pre-Sandy bills the utility has yet to provide.

“I said, ‘You can’t just demand money and not give proof of what it is,’” Cropsey said, adding a PSEG rep told her other customers have complained about the charge. Her concern is that other customers with automatic withdrawal won’t recognize the mistake and pay it. Her mom, who is 83, is “so afraid of losing electricity she said, ‘I’m just going to pay it.’” The downstairs to the house was lost due to severe storm damage and there was no electric service for six months after Sandy.

PSEG spokeswoman Brooke Houston called the matter an isolated incident “as far as I know,” and added, “We apologize for the oversight and any inconvenience this has caused.” Told there were other complaints, she said she would look into it.

Kaminsky said at least two of his constituents have made the same complaint, and he has asked the utility to investigate further. His concern, he said, is that some customers would pay the charge “unwittingly.”

Houston said the “transfer” charge on Carter’s bill is for electric usage on her pre-Sandy account. Some PSEG customers lost service for extended periods after the storm and established new electric accounts.

“Our representative did not recognize that the date of service termination coincided with the date of Sandy,” Houston said. “We have removed the charge from the customer’s account and will take this as a poignant reminder to remain sensitive and attentive to our customers impacted by Sandy.”

Cropsey said she was told by a PSEG representative that the charge related to reconnecting her service after disconnection following the storm, but Houston said, “It’s not our policy to charge for Sandy reconnections.”

Cropsey said a PSEG telephone rep said her call wasn’t the only one. “I did get the acknowledgment that this is happening to many, if not all, Sandy victims as a result of PSEG needing to give us power back from their line,” Cropsey wrote.

The collection letters come more than five years after the storm knocked out service to nearly all of LIPA’s 1.1 million customer base.

National Grid, which ran the LIPA system during Sandy, faced a firestorm of criticism from its natural gas customers in 2015 after it reinstituted fees of $1,400 or more to reconnect rebuilt homes to service after they were raised. The utility had initially waived the fee for 2 1⁄2 years following the storm, but drew outrage when it tried to begin charging in 2015. After criticism, it extended the waiver of fees to March 2016, enough time for homes that were raised to hook-up without charge.

Kaminsky, who led the criticism against the National Grid fee, said his office has been particularly alert for companies attempting to charge customers extra fees related to the storm — even five years later.

“We called and had the [PSEG charge] fixed right away,” Kaminsky said Friday. Customers “shouldn’t have the onus on them of even having to ask not to pay it,” he said. “Some people may be paying it unwittingly.”

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