QCOSTARICA – The water utility, Instituto Costarricense de Aqueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA), has 30 days to resolve the claims for excessive water charges made during the pandemic.
This is the order given by the Regulatory Authority for Public Services (Aresep), according to a statement issued on Tuesday.
These are irregular collections that occurred between previous March and June and are still pending resolution.
The Aresep said it examined a sample of 78 cases, among which it confirmed irregularities such as charges based on improper use of consumption averages, consecutive estimates in the billing of other months, damaged meters, meter changes without notifying the user, reading errors and inattention of leaks detected that affected collection.
“In general, evidence was found that AyA does not have adequate control of the billing system, from the point of taking the reading, until the final issuance of the bill and its collection,” said the Aresep.
The Authority added that the majority of subscribers are dissatisfied with the management of the AyA.
“AyA is ordered to present a proposal that allows correcting, ultimately, all the problems that have arisen in recent months with billing, and that have negatively affected a significant part of the user population,” said the Aresep.
In addition, it was ordered that except in special cases, it must carry out a periodic reading of the consumption of its customers and if it is forced to make an estimate of consumption, it must consider at least 12 months to obtain the average consumption.
The AyA was also ordered to present a preventive and corrective maintenance plan for hydrometers within three months and execute it to minimize cases of under-registration or erroneous measurement.
Similarly, the utility must promptly alert subscribers who exceed 100% in consumption, so that they can detect internal leaks in time and check the meter.
When consumption is low with respect to average consumption (under-invoicing), the cubic meters of water not charged in a month can no longer be accumulated to the new bill, but must be prorated according to the number of months considered in the estimate.
The Aresep even went so far as to instruct AyA on how to improve customer service. In this sense, It indicated that any adjustment related to billing should be reported in “plain and clear language” and open spaces for personalized attention with subscribers, as well as a reduction in waiting time.
Error and rain of claims
Between previous March and June, in a series of inaccuracies in the collection of consumption, the AyA incurred a shower of complaints. The utility, it appears, in many cases did a double, triple or more billing for the three months it did not read the meters: billed monthly the average consumption for March and April and then the actual consumption in the May billing.
Explanations given in June by the AyA, indicated that the increase in amounts to be collected in May was due to an undetected increase in water consumption during the previous two months.
Said increase in the demand, it said, would not have been received or collected before because the institution decided to suspend the reading of meters in March and April, to avoid exposing its staff to COVID-19 infections.
Therefore, from March 20 to mid-May, the Institute decided on its own, to calculate the billing of its subscribers based on historical consumption records.
This decision generated thousands of claims.
In mid-June, Aresep confirmed that AyA had accumulated at least 6,000 complaints. Of that number, there are 2,000 pending.
In the case of your truly, one of who filed a complaint, the May billing was which was almost 7 times the historical consumption, was reduced slightly. On the second filing, of the same complaint, the billing due date was pushed to December 31, 2020. See From the historical to the hysterical
The Aresep reported then that the inquiries exceeded AyA’s ability to respond to them by email, calls or online.
Not only that, Aresep claimed that AyA admitted that the billing problem resulted precisely, when it tried to estimate and then collect the difference between the last meter reading and the previous period without meter reading during the pandemic.