Meralco fined ₱19 million over 'bill shock' amid lockdown

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 27) — The Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered Meralco to pay a ₱19 million fine, saying the power distributor violated the government's advisories during the community quarantine, resulting in thousands of "bill shock" complaints from consumers.

In a statement on Thursday, the ERC said it ruled last week that Meralco failed to clearly inform consumers that their electricity bills were simply "estimated" during the lockdown – when strict restrictions prevented Meralco representatives from reading meters in households.

Meralco also violated the installment payment scheme mandated by the ERC, the commission said.

“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely information especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricity consuming public,” ERC Chairperson and CEO Agnes Devanadera said.

READ: Customer complaints over electric bill shock surge to 50,000 — ERC

Meralco, the country's largest power distributor, earlier committed to expand meter reading so actual consumption would be reflected in consumers' June bills, and to send them letters with detailed explanations. Households with monthly consumption of 200 kilowatt per hour and below in February 2020 are entitled to six monthly installments, while others can make staggered payments within four months.

However, the commission said Meralco committed a total of 190 days of violation of the rules set for March to July. This was multiplied by the basic penalty of ₱100,000, to get the administrative fine of ₱19 million. The computation covered the number of advisories violated and the number of days that lapsed "before serious efforts were undertaken," the ERC said.

The ERC also asked Meralco to set to zero the distribution, supply, and metering charges of lifeline consumers, or those with monthly energy consumption of not more than 100 kWh for the next one-month billing cycle after receipt of the agency’s decision.

“The said retail rate discount will provide temporary economic relief to more than two million lifeline consumers and their family members at least for a month. The DSM comprised of 22.4 percent of the total retail rate,” the agency said. It estimated the total discount to be around ₱200 million.

Meralco was also ordered to submit a compliance report 15 days after the implementation of the ERC directives, which will include the number of consumers who benefited and the total discounted amount.