By Tom Collins
TORONTO — Jeremy Poteck helps people who are overcharged on their power bill get their money back.
The Toronto man started up Poteck Power Corp. last year when he read the ombudsman’s damning report outlining Hydro One’s many billing errors. He said he has since recovered $3.5 million in overcharges and not just from Hydro One but 17 different utility companies.
He said the biggest utility errors are on bills for multi-residential dwellings, such as condos, but figures the second-biggest errors are made when billing farms. Ten per cent of farmers are likely overcharged, he said.
“Oftentimes farmers use a lot of electricity and they might not be paying that close attention to the bills,” he said. “When you talk about (large companies), they’re spending $10 million a year on power, and they have five full-time people who do what I do. But if you have a dairy farm spending $75,000 a year, you don’t have anyone in a computer room analyzing those bills every day, so there’s a higher chance it’s been overlooked.”
The highest refund he recovered was $276,000 for a hotel, while his highest farm-related refund was $15,000 for a Leamington greenhouse operation.
There is no charge for Poteck to examine your bills (provided that you pay at least $10,000 in electricity annually) but he gets 50 per cent of any refund. It takes about two weeks for Poteck to audit a bill and about two months to get a refund. Poteck deals with the utility company to get the refund and after the refund comes in, he follows up by asking businesses to send him the next few bills to double-check that mistakes have been fixed.
Poteck has found 1,000 individual errors on bills and fewer than five were in the customers’ favour. In those cases, Poteck tells the business and leaves it up to them to determine what to do.
One common error is overlapped billing dates. For example, a customer might have a bill for Jan. 1 to Feb. 5, but then his next bill is for Feb. 1 to March 1.
“Any person could identify that if looking with a fine-toothed comb but most of the errors have to do with complicated policy or complicated math and it’s really hard to find,” he said.
Ontario ombudsman André Marin released a report on Hydro One last year that said a new customer information system, installed in May 2013, affected the bills of more than 100,000 customers. The report highlighted some of the big errors, including one corporation billed for $15 million instead of $4,000, Garrison Petawawa military base receiving an incorrect bill for $50 million and a ski club that received a $37,000 bill. But when the ski club complained the next bill was for almost $37 million.
“With Hydro One, there could be an error anywhere on the bill,” Poteck said. “I’ve only scratched the surface of the farmers’ market. I think there are a lot more mistakes out there.”