Billing Blunder

July 17, 2008 5:27:39 PM PDT
It's a billing mix-up that will make thousands of New Jersey utility customers pay up. And they're paying for something that was initially given to them.

It all started months ago when customers across New Jersey noticed credits on bills for gas and electric service. The problem is they weren't supposed to get those credits.

"I thought this is terrific they're finally doing something to help folks that are struggling to pay these utility bills."

Kathleen Griffin thought relief from her rising utility bill had come in the mail. She received notices that she was eligible for a credit through the Universal Service Fund.

"It wasn't anything I applied for wasn't really sure why I got it. We were entitled to it."

Kathleen said for three months she received credits on her bill totaling close to $500. But then:

"It was not a credit anymore but they had applied the full amount back onto the bill."

Kathleen said to add insult to injury she was told if she didn't pay up, she'd be left in the dark.

"It's an awful amount of money."

And she's not alone. More than 13 thousand households statewide received benefits through PSE&G and 6 other utilities that are now being taken away. Those households will now have to scramble to pay back that money.

So, what went wrong? A New Jersey Department of Public Utilities spokesperson told Action News an administrative error caused a glitch after applicants were screened for USF benefits.

Kathleen Griffin said she's upset that she wasn't given any notice that she's now responsible for paying back a steep utility bill.

"If they could send me two notices indicating we were getting it I feel they should have sent a notice letting us know."

Some folks are still getting bills indicating they owe the entire back amount immediately. But the agency overseeing the utility companies said payment arrangements can be worked out. You do, however, need to call your utility company right away.

Meantime, in other consumer news a South Jersey pool company is in hot water. Castaway Pools and Spas is now being sued by the New Jersey Attorney General. Action News first warned you about the company last year. Customers were complaining they had paid thousands of dollars in deposits but never got their finished swimming pool.

The New Jersey Attorney General alleges the company committed unconscionable consumer fraud by making false promises and misrepresentations.

For more information:
NJ Consumer Affairs