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PUC Report Shows Drop in Overall Consumer Complaints and Requests for Payment Arrangements; Most Consumers Satisfied with PUC Interactions




January 26, 2017

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today released its latest Utility Consumer Activities Report and Evaluation (UCARE Report), which shows that overall consumer complaints about utilities and payment arrangement requests (PARs) decreased during 2015, and that the majority of customers contacting the PUC for assistance rated it as a positive experience.

"This latest UCARE Report details a number of positive changes in the relationship between Pennsylvania consumers and utilities, as well as the effectiveness of PUC intervention – when that was required,” explained PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “It is essential for consumers to understand that the PUC is focused on ensuring that utilities are responsive to their needs and work to help families maintain or restore service.  It is equally important for consumers to call the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services, at 1-800-692-7380, if they are unable to reach an agreement with the utility or are unsatisfied with the utility’s response to their problem.”

The UCARE Report is an annual evaluation of the customer service performance of the state’s major jurisdictional electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telephone companies. 
 

Overall Complaints and Payment Arrangements

Overall, the total number of consumer complaints received by the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services decreased from 19,735 in 2014 to 10,684 in 2015, a 46 percent drop. During that same period the number of PARs fell from 62,079 to 50,434, which is a 19 percent reduction. The Commission’s UCARE report notes that during the winter of 2014, Pennsylvania experienced unusually bitter cold weather in what became known as the Polar Vortex, resulting in a significantly higher number of electric-related consumer complaints. Still, with the exception of the jump in complaints immediately following the Polar Vortex, PUC data also shows an ongoing downward trend in overall consumer complaints – which are currently at the lowest level in more than a decade.

Complaints involving electric and natural gas utilities account for the large majority (approximately 82 percent) of all consumer complaints filed with the PUC. During 2015 the volume of consumer complaints concerning electric utilities fell by 54 percent, while complaints involving natural gas utilities dropped by 35 percent.

Conversely, the numbers of complaints filed by residential customers involving telephone services rose by 12 percent, compared to 2014, while the number of complaints against water utilities fell by less than 1 percent.

Requests for PARs decreased for every category of utility service between 2014 and 2015, including electric (23 percent), natural gas (11 percent), water (5 percent), telephone (12 percent) and other utilities (78 percent).
 

Common Reasons for PUC Utility Complaints

According to the report, billing disputes were the most common reason for residential consumer complaints about the electric (21 percent) and water (35 percent) utilities.  Personnel problems were the primary reason for residential consumer complaints about the natural gas industry (15 percent). Unsatisfactory service was the main reason for residential consumer complaints about the telephone industry (34 percent).

The top five reasons for consumer complaints, by industry, are as follows:

Major Electric Distribution Utilities:

  • Billing Disputes - 21%
  • Termination or PAR Procedures - 14%
  • Credit and Deposits - 13%
  • Personnel Problems - 11%
  • Metering - 10%
     

Major Natural Gas Distribution Utilities:

  • Complaints about Company Personnel or Procedures - 15%
  • Termination or PAR Procedures - 15%
  • Discontinuance/Transfer - 15%
  • Billing Disputes - 14%
  • Damages - 8%
     

Major Water Utilities:

  • Billing Disputes - 35%
  • Termination or PAR Procedures - 15%
  • Service Quality - 14%
  • Complaints about Company Personnel or Procedures - 11%
  • Metering - 7%
     

Major Telephone Utilities:

  • Unsatisfactory Service - 34%
  • Billing Disputes - 23%
  • Service Delivery - 21%
  • Service Terminations - 4%
  • Competition - 2%
     

Consumer Inquiries

The total number of general inquires to the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services, which rarely require follow-up investigation beyond the initial contact, also decreased from 2014 to 2015, dropping by 37 percent.

Of those calls, the largest number involved questions about customer assistance programs (25 percent), followed by termination or suspension of utility service (18 percent), payment arrangements (16 percent) and competition issues (10 percent).
 

PUC Response to Complaints

The staff of the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services is trained to navigate the various programs designed to help consumers restore and maintain service and, as this report shows, most consumers indicate that calling the PUC resulted in a positive experience.

According to consumers, 86 percent indicate that they would contact the PUC again if they had another problem with a utility that they could not resolve with the company. Further, 83 percent rated the service they received from the PUC as “good” or “excellent” – an increase from 80 percent in the previous year.
 

Fewer Terminations

Other notable information detailed by the UCARE Report included a 5 percent drop in the number of residential service terminations by major electric distribution companies between 2014 and 2015, along with an 8 percent decrease in the terminations for natural gas distribution companies. The overall termination rates for electric and natural gas distribution utilities also declined during that period.
 

About the UCARE Report

To help consumers make accurate comparisons between companies of various sizes, the PUC calculates the number of justified complaints per 1,000 residential customers.  A complaint is considered “justified” if the Commission finds that the company did not comply with PUC regulations and policies when handling the dispute.  A significant increase in a justified rate would prompt a review of a utility’s complaint handling procedures.  Consumer complaint rates and justified consumer complaint rates are located in Appendix F of the report. The annual UCARE reports dating back to 1997, along with quarterly updates for more recent years, are posted on the PUC website.

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Contact:Nils Hagen-Frederiksen
Press Secretary
717-783-6152
nhagen-fre@pa.gov


Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Press Office
P.O. Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA 17105-3265
(717) 787-5722 FAX (717) 787-4193

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