KIYC: JCP&L customers continue fight against ‘unfair’ debts

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TOMS RIVER -

A recent court filing by Jersey Central Power and Light is practically an admission that the utility breaks the rules by pressuring customers to pay bills it knows are not their responsibility, some consumer advocates say. The practice, which some call an abuse of power, was the subject of a Kane In Your Corner investigation in April.

Steve Krug of Toms River says he regrets paying more than $7,000 to JCP&L, but at the same time feels he had no choice. “It was the end of November, it was freezing, we had no heat” says Krug, one of several JCP&L customers featured in the Kane In Your Corner investigation.  

After the investigation, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities attempted to review Krug’s case, but says JCP&L refused to provide information, so Krug requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. In its response, JCP&L said the massive bill belonged to Krug’s stepdaughter and her boyfriend, and it held the Krugs responsible for it after public records indicated the stepdaughter had moved in with them.

Charlie Harak of the National Consumer Law Center says the utility’s explanation is unacceptable. “You can’t simply say I think you’re responsible for that bill because I can suggest some connection between you and that person,” he says. “It has to be something like you were married to that person or you lived with them long-term or somehow you defrauded us about who was in the household.”

RELATED: Board of Public Utilities says it’s powerless to help family fighting JCP&L
MORE: JCP&L customers say company is strong-arming them to pay fees
MORE: NJ BPU failed to adequately investigate JCP&L complaints

JCP&L’s Tariff Agreement, essentially a contract with the state, clearly spells that out too. The company can only discontinue service to a customer if “substantially the same household” lived at both addresses, and names were switched to “circumvent payment.” But JCP&L doesn’t even attempt to make the case that Krug or his wife lived with their stepdaughter when her utility bill went unpaid. Perhaps that’s because the Krugs already proved they were living in Florida at the time.

And this isn’t an isolated case. Anthony D’Ambrosio of Brick says the same thing happened to him after he took in a friend whose home was foreclosed. 

“They’re telling me that since she moved in with me, even though I didn’t live there, that I benefited from her electricity,” D’Ambrosio says. “How could I benefit if I didn’t live there?”

D’Ambrosio complained twice to the BPU, records show, but the regulator declined to intervene. D’Ambrosio says if JCP&L is allowed to get away with this conduct, it could prevent friends and family members from helping those in need.

“If you take somebody in, you’ll be taking a chance that somebody will be turned off,” he says. “People will come after you for their bills.”

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano says “The company does its due diligence in all circumvention of debt cases. There are two sides to every story however, as per company policy, JCP&L will not provide any customer information. Customers who disagree with JCP&L’s findings can file a formal complaint with the BPU and the matter may be sent to an Administrative Law Judge”.

But the Kane In Your Corner investigation appears to be getting the attention of state lawmakers. Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D – Hamilton), chair of the Assembly Utilities Committee, says, “We need to find a balance between giving utility companies the ability go after those who refuse to pay their bills and making sure that innocent people are not falsely saddled with someone else’s debt.  I am in the process of reviewing state law and Board of Public Utilities rules to determine who best to address the situation.’”

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