An inquiry committee set up by National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) has recommended initiating legal proceedings against all Distribution Companies (DISCOs) including K-Electric (KE) over charging excessive bills/detection bills to the consumers.
“Legal proceedings against all Distribution Companies including KEL under NEPRA Fine Regulations, 2021 for violation of the provisions of NEPRA Act, CSM and tariff terms & conditions etc.,” the power regulator said in its inquiry report in the matter of excessive billing by DISCOs in July and August 2023.
NEPRA said it took serious notice upon the complaints which were reported in NEPRA offices from all over the Pakistan regarding excessive, inflated, and wrong bills charged by the distribution companies to the consumers during July and August 2023.
On such violations of the applicable documents, the Authority decided to conduct a hearing of all distribution companies and also invite Ministry of Energy (Power Division) to attend the said hearing. In the hearing, CEOs of all the distribution companies participated online and expressed their point of views before the Authority.
It was noted during the course of proceedings that the numerous distribution companies are charging meter readings, whereby snaps readings differ from the readings recorded on the consumers’ bills. In other cases, snaps of meter reading are either invisible or deliberately not taken.
Similarly, some cases were reported that monthly meter readings are being taken beyond billing cycle of 30 days, which resulted in undue/inflated charging of upper slab bills to the less user consumer(s) hence, changing category from protected to un-protected.
Subsequently, the regulator decided to constitute a committee to probe into the matter of over/excessive billing issues and to submit its report along with recommendations to the Authority.
During the inquiry by the committee, it was noted that more than 5.7 million consumers in MEPCO were charged for more than 30 days of billing cycle in the month of July followed by GEPCO (1.2 million) in August, FESCO more than 0.8 million in August, LESCO around 0.7 million in both months and HESCO more than 0.5 million in July.
This resulted in change of slab from lower to higher, change of status from protected to un-protected and change of status from life line to non-life line for thousands of consumers.
It was noted with grave concern that during the months of July and August, thousands of consumers were served electricity bills having invalid snaps, in which MEPCO, LESCO, QESCO and SEPCO are major contributors.
The regulator said that thousands of consumers were charged for more than 40 days billing. This was the major cause of overbilling during the months of July and August. In this regard, MEPCO followed by GEPCO, FESCO, LESCO and HESCO are the DISCOs who heavily done such overbilling. Overall, all DISCOs were responsible for such unjustified exercise.
The report further mentioned that according to Clause 4.3 of Consumer Service Manual (CSM), the defective meters are required to be replaced immediately however, in case of non-availability the meters are required to be replaced within two billing cycles.
However, due to non-replacement of defective meters thousands of consumers were charged on average basis for more than (02) months and even in large number of cases one (01) year to three (03) years and even above three (03) years. The respective DISCOs did not bother to replace the defective meters even after three years. Had these meters been replaced on time, there could have been a chance to calculate the authentic figures of losses, it added.
The report has also highlighted issues in detection billing and procedure for taking snapshots of meter readings.
NEPRA said that it is very unfortunate that distribution companies are deliberately carrying out such malpractices in order to hide their inefficiencies due to which thousands of consumers suffered with higher electricity bills. Overall, it can be said that most of the DISCOs have failed to charge the electricity bills in accordance with the relevant clauses of CSM i.e. 4.3, 6.1.1, 6.1.3 & 6.2 and terms & conditions of tariff approved by the Authority. The DISCOs have also failed to carry out the mechanism of percentage checking as provided in CSM. Moreover, detection bills have been charged in violation of clause 9.1 and 9.2 of CSM.
The DISCOs are responsible for over charging of bills to the consumers and have been found involved in such illegal practices due to failure to abide by the relevant provisions of the applicable documents. The DISCOs have also charged detection bills to hundreds of thousands of consumers in violation of the provisions of Consumer Service Manual, it added.
Apart from legal proceedings, the committee has recommended that DISCOs may be directed to replace all defective meters immediately having age above two (02) months and to submit the compliance report within two (02) months. Data of such meters be retrieved and the consumers be charged actual reading instead of average billing.
It has also recommended that the DISCOs may be directed to coordinate with Power Information Technology Company (PITC) and review all the inflated charged bills since June 2023 and onwards which caused conversion of category of billing from protected /life line consumers into unprotected/nonlife line consumers due to billing cycle above 30 days, excessive billing; whatsoever by collecting account No. wise details from PITC.