Tag Archives: Consumer Issues

Only Child condemns high utility bills

Only Child  digging in her purse for non-existent money to pay soaring utility bills

Only Child digging in her purse for non-existent money to pay soaring utility bills

Like many other individuals I am going broke just keeping up with paying all the high utility bills. And only one utility service has a legitimate reason to raise the rates. Two of the others are penalizing the consumers for their (the company, not the consumer) mistakes. A few, like the phone company, cable TV service and property taxes are just normal rates tied into inflation. This latter I may grumble about but it is acceptable.

So, who are the two companies “stealing” from the consumers – why Enbridge Gas (and other gas companies) and all the municipal hydro companies as well as Big Daddy in Ontario – Hydro One.

Enbridge apparently can’t learn from past mistakes. For winter 2012 into 2013, gas consumption for heating homes rose. Enbridge didn’t factor this possibility into their equal monthly billing. Most of us got hit with an extremely high bill to pay off the difference at the end of the company’s fiscal year. That’s what I found out when I called to complain. Apparently they no longer raise the equal billing rates mid-winter season if necessary. Guess they received too many complaints about that set-up, but my guess is that not as many complaints as the number who complained of the year-end monstrous bills. Consumer advocate here (me) pushed for a deal and got the okay to pay half one month and half the next month.

So, the equal billing amounts were raised only a smidgeon for this 2013-2014 inter and we consumers thought we were getting a good deal – at least compared to what the hydro company was doing. Hah? Now the gas companies, including Enbridge, are raising the rates starting with April’s bill. Enbridge’s rate increase is 40 per cent while Union Gas (southern Ontario) is 28 per cent. Enbridge claims that it had to buy “more spot market gas” and that costs more. See http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/03/27/enbridge_gets_hefty_interim_rate_increase.html

My first question is the obvious one: why didn’t these companies factor in that we might just get another bad winter, if not worse and just maybe they might have to purchase more gas elsewhere? Hello consumer company big whigs – severe weather is now the norm – everywhere and every season. Tunnel vision doesn’t work.
The second question is – why should we consumers have to pay for their costly mistake – or at least to the tunes of 40 per cent and 28 percent, which the Ontario Energy Board okayed? This same energy board is investigating ways to make it not so bad for consumers to pay. Why couldn’t they hold off payment until they found a way? Talk about doing something ass over backwards. So, as usual, consumers are stuck. Those who have gas stoves and gas fireplaces will get hit even harder. Fortunately, I have just the gas furnace and water heater. And here I thought I was “lucky.”
To make matters worse, the head of the Industrial Gas Users Association, Shahrzad Rahbar compares it to getting a root canal and do you blame the dentist for that? Bad comparison. The dental patient may be responsible for dental problems requiring a root canal. But consumers responsible for a gas company’s mishandling of  their bad choices and lack of foresight? I think not – at least not to 40 per cent and 28 per cent all-at-once increases. See http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/03/28/natural_gas_rate_increase_angers_consumers.

I know – you have to turn on the gas furnace with an electrical switch and thermostat. Apparently that wasn’t always so. Back in what I’m now more and more realizing were the “good old days” you could get your gas furnace going without electricity.

And now for the other utility money-grabber and that situation is even worse. The gas companies are merely guilty of stupidity but Hydro One and all the Ontario municipalities (the latter have to base at least some of their costs on those of Hydro One) rate increases are for the wrong reason.

In a nutshell, we consumers are paying off Hydro One’s debts.

There is also another shady going-on with Ontario Hydro customers – some smart meters giving excessively high readings, causing some users to go bankrupt from over $2000 monthly hydro bills. Smart meters? Stupid meters. Stupid idea Hydro One and former Ontario premier Dalton McGuilty (McGinty). There are 600 plus complaints about this one to the Ontario Ombudsman so he has launched an investigation into these dealings. Some people say it should go much farther into a fraud investigation. See http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/ontario-ombudsman-launches-hydro-one-investigation-1.1670529

I can’t remember how hydro and gas bills were set up when I was a child (my parents had oil heating, not gas in our little bungalow) but we were billed for water at a flat rate. I’m not saying we should be billed a flat rate today. And water rates are going up on a continuing but scheduled basis. However, Toronto Water and Waste is doing something with this money. They are upgrading all the old sewers pipes, water pipes – the infrastructure that goes back 50 plus years, and doing extra on their part to stop basement flooding in Toronto areas prone to that. So, while I may complain about the high water rates, at least I know my money is being put to good and necessary use.
Unlike hydro rates, which despite the mess-up with some “smart” meters, has gone up three times in seven months.
Something is really wrong here. We can conserve energy (heating, etc. not our own personal energy) until the proverbial cows come home, but it doesn’t seem to matter much.
Come to think of it, with this situation, do the cows really want to come home anyway?
What do readers think? Are you experiencing similar utility hikes where you live?
Please comment.
Cheers.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumerism, Extreme Weather, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, Weather

Only Child asks: Is $26,793 the new poverty line cut-off for singles?

Me in 1950 - up against the barbed wire fence, a good analogy for worrying

Me in 1950 – up against the barbed wire fence, a good analogy for all the consumer issues

The Ontario Energy Board may think so. Just read on.

I’m on another rampage about getting overcharged for services – this time it’s Toronto Hydro. Rates went up twice this year and although I know with another person in the house (the boarder), consumption goes up somewhat. But the amount seems a little high for just one more person, especially as both of us try to do energy-hogging jobs (like laundry and we wash with cold water and hang up a lot of our laundry) during the so-called cheapest off-peak time periods. And there are no new electrical appliances and the like in the house since February 2011. I don’t think a small dehumidifier counts as a big hydro user, especially as it hasn’t been used for a few months. And I also know I need some new energy-conservation windows but can’t afford them. But that’s been the situation since I moved here 15 years ago. Still the consumption has gone up – or so the latest bill says.

With the last bill two months ago (and it was up too) I tried to get Toronto Hydro – who is my municipal hydro utility – to send someone to come here and check my hydro electric meter to see if that was working okay. All I got from that was “it looks fine from here.” Excuse me, but when did call centre people become hydro tech experts?

I’m going after that end again –when I can find the time with all the other crap going on. In the meantime I’ve checked out other options online at Toronto Hydro – you can get your payments equalized to monthly coming out of your bank account. How that works for rate hikes and consumption which is never the same beats me. The other option is if you are low income (and depending on how many people in your household) you can get some financial assistance (this is Ontario Energy Board) – but it goes through a social service agency.

And that’s where that $26,793 comes in – according to Toronto Hydro, I suppose, as the information says “…in Toronto” a single person whose income is below $26,793 annually could qualify for this help. More specifics are at http://www.torontohydro.com/sites/electricsystem/corporateresponsibility/communityoutreach/pages/lowincome.aspx

So, my question is: Is the new poverty level for a single person living alone now $26,793? Last time I checked it was $19,000 (rounded off). And that’s before you pay taxes but after you take off deductions. With those criteria, I fall below the $19,000.

It’s a sad micro statement of the macro situation in the world today. The so-called middle class is fast disappearing – today you are either rich or poor. The Toronto Star is doing a series on Canadians Me, You, Us by Michael Valpy – and the current stories deal with just this.  Here’s a link to one such story http://www.thestar.com/news/atkinsonseries/2013/12/13/the_incredible_disappearing_middle_class.html

On a happier note – I got some justice from Rogers Cable TV – a voice-mail message from them notifying me the problem had been fixed and if there were any more problems to give them a call. Previously I had been informed that we customers aren’t told when a street problem is fixed and we just had to watch the TV to find out.

If you remember from my post last week I, a non-techie- had figured out what the cause was but it took a lot of shrieking phone calls to get someone to hear me.

Which makes me wonder what will happen with Toronto Hydro when I phone again (now a few months later) to get someone to check the hydro meter – in person, not remote.

And I’m still waiting for my Day-timers to arrive – 2015 perhaps for 2014 Day-timers?

No wonder I’m cranky 24/7. I’m choking on cherry pits.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, finances, Life demands, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, Uncategorized

Only Child continues consumer agitating– Rogers Cable TV and Day-Timer

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

My consumer agitation and advocating continues. Every week I pick up at least one more company or government agency to add to my (s)hit list.

The Rogers Cable TV saga continues. Last week the tech service guy showed and because the service had kicked back in again before his arrival, he did a cursory check of the TV, digital adapter box, cables downstairs (just stared at them) and the outside box on the brick wall. He said the problem was because Rogers is doing the final upgrades for all digital service and went into a rant about one area of Toronto’s (not my area) service disruption and many calls from the apartments in that area.

Wrong diagnosis. The past weekend the cable service went again – from Friday until yesterday afternoon (Monday). Friday I phoned yet again and complained and after insisting, I  talked to the same supervisor of two weeks ago. He said it was not service upgrades but a street problem if more than one person on the street had the problem. (I had already phoned Tanya next door). I told Richard the supervisor that the service was fine across the street as I had also checked with a friend there. He figured it was a loose old cable or maybe one where some water got in. He said he would try to escalate my Monday appointment (for later Saturday and/or Sunday) but that didn’t happen.

Monday afternoon two tech service guys showed up and said there had also been a call from No.9 on my street and they figured it was something in the cable over the end of the backyard behind No. 5.

Do you think? I had been hammering at the techies who came before to check the damn cables at the end of the backyards because I figured it could be there. None of the other two listened to me. Hey, I’m just a customer, not a techie, so what do I know? Turns out I was right. These two guys did check out the back cables – they were there for some time – and  checked right across the back of our properties. They said maintenance would be called in and service should be 100 per cent within 48 hours, although there could be a bit more disruption before then. But as I had not service when they arrived, one of them fiddled with the cable going into the digital adapter box and got the service working.

It was nice to be able to watch some TV last evening. So far I’ve missed Blue Bloods, The Mentalist, Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Heartbeats (or parts of them), Bones and a new Christmas movie. I got about $21. and some odd cents off my bill I just paid. And I pulled the senior card and am getting an extra $10 off each month for a year. The bill I paid last week was less than what I paid when I first moved here 15 years ago. It’s the least Rogers could do.

I was ready to go to Rogers head office in midtown Toronto and picket.

The latest consumer issue is the Day-Timers I have been ordering annually for at least 25 years from the company of the same name. The Day-Timer company  used to be in Niagara Falls and now they are down in Florida – at least the call centre is – that I think may be new this year. And the company has the nerve to still call themselves Day-Timer Canada? Well, they are out of stock of my standard order and won’t have more in until January 8 and it will take up to two weeks to get shipped to me. By tortoise I presume. They offered me a choice of a couple of other similar Day-Timers (one Day-Timer per month and similar setup of two pages for each day) both now in stock. I didn’t like the first choice and the second one only a little better. I kicked up a fuss about all this so they are waiving the shipping charges. While the guy was getting this all set up I did an online search of Staples (who used to carry Day-Timers but at a higher price) but they don’t anymore. So I went with second choice and no shipping charges.

But I’m not happy. I don’t recommend doing business with Day-Timer of any country. If you are a company carrying appointment books and planners it kind of helps if you have plenty  in stock to get to the customer before the year starts.

And before anyone tells me to go online for my calendar/planners – been there, tried that. Don’t like it. Not having a smart phone or any other kind of cell plus, I’m not online 24/7 – by choice. Throw in what the Day-Timer guy said. My particular planner sold out fast this year because more people were ordering them this year.

So technology apparently isn’t ruling everywhere.

No wonder I’m cranky24/7.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Daytimer, Only child, Rogers Cable TV Service

Only Child and the Rogers Cable TV Saga

Only Child a Dad on veranda of house  with the old-fashioned TV setup

Only Child and Dad on veranda of house with the old-fashioned TV setup

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s cable TV did not exist. Mom and Dad used first an antennae on the roof and then one of those big towers. We didn’t get a lot of TV stations (there were not nearly as many then) but we did get the three basic Buffalo, New York ones. That I’m sure of because I used to watch the horror movies late at night on Channel 7 after I returned from a teen dance. We also got a couple of Toronto and nearby city channels such as Hamilton, Ontario. We had all the programs we wanted and when something went haywire with the TV we knew it was the TV itself not the service.

Today, it’s all digital, satellite, cable, online and way too many TV stations. And apparently crappy service as I’m finding out with Rogers Cable TV after 15 years of very good service including prompt, competent, and satisfactory service when there were service disruptions or equipment needed replacing or added on.

Not anymore. “Adequate service” is pushing it.

The past week and a half has been a nightmare of frequent service interruptions and Rogers Cable TV inefficiency. Except for the ladies in billing and payments and the corporate communications (which are good), the bottom line seems to be hire the dumbasses. And the service has not only been with my connection but all throughout my neighbourhood (one side of the street only – I’ve been checking around) and apparently in other areas of east Toronto as my friend Tanya next door found out when standing in line at a Rogers phone outlet store and talking to other Rogers customers.

I’m not going through the blow by blow scenario as it would take three posts (so far) to do so. Instead I’ll just list what has been happening.

  1. Four service disruptions so far (and they tally with next door).
  2. Rogers Cable TV’s stupid policy for technicians showing up for service calls. If you don’t answer your phone when they call, they cancel the appointment and you have to rebook. I pointed out that Bell Canada (their rival but it’s not a cable setup) show up even if their phone notification goes to voice mail. The Rogers setup happened to me with the first call – the dingbat technician hung up after two rings of the phone – he wasn’t there when I picked up on the third ring.
  3. Then my friend next door and I co-ordinated one service call for both – she even had my spare housekeys. I did the actual arrangement with a supervisor at the tech dept. He said he’d notify dispatch to skip the phone call and come directly to the two doors. Another phone call arrived in voice mail (I was out and so was my boarder) to reschedule the appointment.
  4. The service “miraculously” came back without a techie showing up – a street maintenance problem as the supervisor suspected.
  5. My friend and I weren’t notified the service was back. Not Rogers policy to let the customer know when street maintenance is being done – even though it could take from within 48 hours (escalated problem which mine was) and up to seven days otherwise. The supervisor said no notification because they might be called away on a more urgent disruption. He said I might see the truck in the neighbourhood and I’d know when it was working when I turned the TV on.
  6. Another disruption a few evenings later (ditto with Tanya next door). I called Rogers tech dept. again and very angrily talked to them. Another appointment with a techie was made for two days later.
  7. Rogers dispatch got me on the phone to notify me about the techie coming. Halleluiah. The techie showed up, checked the digital adapter, cable inside and outside and the cable box outside. He made a minor adjustment in the box and said everything was working. It was then.
  8. Service went out again Saturday evening –briefly. More angry words when I phoned Rogers tech dept. They are still insisting it is not on the street but something at my place.
  9. And when phoning Rogers over that first weekend, the call centre connected me to the Newfoundland branch of their tech dept. They couldn’t help me so transferred me back to the Toronto area – sort of but in Barrie, but I got local. Duh.
  10. So another techie is scheduled to come here this afternoon.

Will this solve it for once and for all?

I’m not holding my breath. But I am making notes to take this further at some point.

I need this like I need another hole in the head (I’m counting mouth and nostrils here)

Stay tuned next week for more in Rogers TVland.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Mom and Dad

Only Child tackles more consumer issues – Swiss Chalet

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Sometime I think that crawling into a hole would be heaven. It’s winter – too early this year. But mainly I am fed up beyond the top of my head with all the crap big business and big government shoves at you when you are just going about your daily business.

My current battles are with Rogers Cable TV and Swiss Chalet.

Let’s cover the latter first as it is shorter and less complicated.

Sunday evening my friend Carol and I went out to dinner at the Swiss Chalet near our homes. I’ve never had problems with any Swiss Chalet before but the waitress who “served” us takes the cake (stale preferred; she doesn’t deserve fresh) for stupidity and dishonesty.

The actual taking our orders and bringing the food went okay. However, when our bills came, that’s when the trouble started. Carol’s bill was fine. But I was overcharged for the extra side – the sweet potato fries. Anyone who has eaten at Swiss Chalet knows that most of their main dishes include the cost of one side and for any others you pay extra. I was charged $4.58 for the sweet potato fries. Where did this broad get this amount? Not on the menu. The menu said $6.49 for a large order of sweet potato fries on their own and $1.99 for a side. I didn’t care if the fries or the vegetable medley was the extra side to pay for as long as I was charged the correct amount.

Trying to make this broad understand was worse than the proverbial pulling teeth. First she said she gave me a large order of SWF; but she finally did go back to change it.

Still not correct. Now the basic dish had gone up $2. and the Sweet Potato Fries were charged as an extra $1.99. So, I disputed this. She didn’t understand – or pretended she didn’t.

“Get me the manager,” I said.

The manager arrived and I explained the situation to him and reiterated that I didn’t care which side was included in the main dish price and which was the extra side. But I shouldn’t be charged for two sides. He checked with the menu and said the SPF are always $1.99 as a side but he conceded the menu didn’t make that clear. So he fixed the bill and this time it was right. When Ms Duffuss came back for the money, I paid with a $20. She asked if I wanted change and I said “yes.”

She didn’t come back with my change. I saw the manager still around the tables and called him over and said I was still waiting for my change. He spoke to Ms Duffuss and she returned with four quarters on the bill platter.

“I already gave you the change,” she said.

“No you didn’t,” I replied. I picked up two quarters and left the rest. Fifty cents was my change, not $1.

She didn’t get a tip and as the manager was aware of her incompetence, I hope he fired her.

This week I’m calling Swiss Chalet head office – you know the number on the bill with the “How did we do today?” and an access code?

I won’t boycott Swiss Chalet – even this branch – but if Ms Duffuss is still there I’ll make sure I don’t sit in her area.

Next week the Rogers Cable TV story.

What consumer issues have you personally run into lately? Do you let them slide or tackle them? Please comment.

And for those in the Toronto, Ontario Canada area interested in writing memoir I’m doing another Kick-starting Your Memoir Using the Six Senses this Thursday evening (Nov. 28) at the Beaches branch of the Toronto Public Library. See http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMEVT147744&R=EVT147744

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Life demands, Money

Only Child says the customer is never right – apparently

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child rests before doing more battles with companies screwing the consumer

The wonky consumer issues keep on coming. It’s at the point where I’m afraid to open my mail, partly the regular mail. Now going into a store can be downright dangerous – at least if you want to be treated fairly.

Added to this list of consumer woes are the two biggies the past week.

My life insurance premium just went up up and up, thanks to the insurance company’s policy which they never bothered to tell me. Sure, the policy is 30 plus years old, it’s gone through several company mergers and the premium has not gone up for years. But the quarterly invoices have always been the same until now. When I phoned the company I did get a knowledgeable person (where was he years ago, including when I called for some clarification two years ago?) Hw explained the situation and walked me through my now ancient policy…and yes, I kept a copy.

In a nutshell,the way it operates is the premium goes up every year but the policy holder doesn’t know that and it won’t show on the invoices unless he or she phones the company to find out and state they want the increase added to their invoices. The policy holder can also request being billed extra to add in to the investment. It is this latter which would show up as extra in my “insurance kitty” – my words, with each annual year-end amount decreased I receive a letter to that effect annually. That amount ran out this month, according to the fellow I spoke to and that’s what triggered the letter. The “lady” at the insurance company I spoke to two years ago didn’t tell me this. Basically, she said if I miss a payment, the extra in “the kitty” covers that and to just keep on paying what I’m billed and that would do it.

Oh really?

The policy itself has a list of increased yearly rates but no info on how to calculate the amounts it transfers into dollars and sense (spelling intentional). The fellow at the insurance company gave me those figures and went through the calculation with me.

The letter I received wanted post-dated cheques for the next 10 months (remember, I’ve been paying on a quarterly basis) or a lump sum equal to that or the policy will be cancelled. I’m almost 65 so don’t need to go through the red tape for a new life insurance policy. I’d cancel this old policy in less than a heartbeat but the small pay-out when I croak will pay for my funeral expenses, lawyer fees to settle the estate, etc. and give my son a little bit more. On my living-just-above-the-poverty level situation I can’t do this otherwise. Instead I’m stuck with my not-so-open (policy-wise) life insurance policy.

I will do as this fellow suggested. But, I’m taking this insurance company’s (Empire Life) policy issue to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Insurance companies have the right to raise the premium but they have to let the customer know and change the invoice to reflect this. The utility companies and the insurance company insuring my house and business do this (State Farm for the latter two – giving credit where credit is due).

The other was Shopper’s Drug Mart and I’m a long-time customer here, particularly the one in my area (for 15 years). Last Thursday, they didn’t have any of the cheese on sale so I asked for a rain cheque. They wouldn’t give it to me because as the manager said (and I insisted I speak to him).

  1. That particular Shoppers is smaller and they don’t carry the full Shopper’s food selection.
  2. Despite Shoppers allowing rain cheques across the board in stores, Shoppers won’t give out rain cheques for anything that particular store doesn’t carry. Note to manager and I said so: I have bought that cheese product in that size before there. The manager said I could go to the next nearby store a larger one (a 15-minute walk) to get it or the rain cheque. I told him I didn’t have time that day. Which brings me to No. 3.
  3. Because of the long Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Shopper’s sales went only to Thursday, not to the usual Friday. Note to manager: Thanksgiving is on a Monday; the Friday is not a statutory holiday.
  4. Shoppers new screwed-up method of issuing rain cheques. They are done like receipts through the computerized cash register and to do this they need the UPS number from the product or its posted price sign, which the manager said, they can’t do for the cheese because that particular Shoppers doesn’t carry it. All other stores have rain cheque forms which are filled out when a customer requests a rain cheque. Loblaw just bought Shoppers. Perhaps Loblaw should push through some of their procedures – like rain cheque issuing – through to Shoppers.

The customer gets blind-sided into a black hole yet again. At my insistence, the manager gave me the head office number. So I’m not done with Shoppers or Empire Life. Next week I go into action with both. This week I have follow-ups on previous screw-ups – CRA for receipt of my tax cheque; Dell for where is my laptop (again)? And the annual included-in-the-contract furnace cleaning which the first person, the jerk, I talked to at Direct Energy wasn’t going to give me. And I have to visit Service Ontario for an ID Card as I don’t have a driver’s licence.

And people want me to devote 15 minutes of my time to what they want.

Screw that.

My parents are lucky not to have lived long enough to deal with this type of nonsense.

Cheers

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Consumerism, finances