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Fewer complaints about utilities in 2022

Fewer customers complained about poor service last year, but utility providers still paid out $157 million, according to data released by the regulator on Wednesday.

The Office of Utilities Regulation, OUR, received 20 per cent fewer complaints last year, reflecting what it called a return to normality following the easing of geopolitical and pandemic shocks.

“We at the OUR recognise that, in the midst of geopolitical and economic turbulence, strategies to navigate a volatile operating environment are critical,” said Deputy Director General Cheryl Lewis at an OUR forum on Wednesday.

“The Jamaica utilities sector, however, remains buoyant with room for growth. We recognise that utility providers must keep apace and overcome challenges of reliability, affordability and equity.”

Last year, power utility Jamaica Public Service Company, JPS, paid $151.2 million in fines, while water provider National Water Commission, NWC, paid $5.3 million. The fines were largely related to GS, or guaranteed standards, breaches. The regulator penalises utilities for disruptions that extend for specific periods.

The OUR has established quality of service performance measures to ensure that utility services provided by JPS, NWC, and private water and sewerage providers meet reasonable standards for individual customers. If these providers fail to comply with GS, affected customers can receive compensation as a credit to their account. JPS and NWC have maintained a compliance rating of over 90 per cent in their delivery of guaranteed standards.

In 2022, the OUR said 4,611 customer contacts were received, compared to about 3,843 in 2021. Of that number, JPS, the sole provider of power, received roughly 800 contacts in the March quarter, but these contacts gradually dipped to under 600 in the December quarter.

In the same periods, the water utility received just under 400 contacts, which dipped to just over 200; and for the telecoms, Digicel and Flow, they received about 350 contacts, which dipped to about 150.

Between 2020 and 2022, customer complaints at JPS remained flat within a 2,500 annual range. NWC complaints moved lower over the period, from roughly 1,200 to 1,350 and then 1,150. The telecoms also showed a gradual dip from about 2,350 to 1,700 to 900 complaints.

“You will recall that during the COVID-19 period, we had to conduct an investigation on high billing. As persons return to normal, we do find that we are having less and less customer contacts,” said Lewis.

Over a decade, from January 2012 to December 2021, JPS paid out $816 million for breaches of customer-guaranteed standards. The bill was about 30 times larger than payments by NWC.

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