Is there anything I can do to reduce the amount of this bill?
July 24, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

A bill went missing two years ago. Now the interest has made the amount huge.

In January 2014, I moved to Ontario after ending a relationship where I lived with my partner in Quebec. I'm being charged $400 by Hydro Quebec for an overdue bill from Dec. 2013. The bill was issued in December 2013, and was for around $12. I'm guessing that the interest has compiled and made the bill now $400.

In the commotion of moving and the breakup I must have forgotten to search for the December bill or never received it (I can't remember), or else my ex-partner recieved it. Now that I live in Quebec again, I opened a new Hydro Quebec account and it says I owe $400.

Is there anything I can do? (I haven't been using Hydro Quebec since 2013) Can I complain that they never contacted me to ask for the money? Sorry for my ignorance, I've never been in this situation before.

If there's nothing I can do, is it appropriate to contact my ex to help pay the bill (We're on good terms, but are not close friends and don't speak very often)?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Is this bill in collections? Or is it still with the utility.

You can negotiate in either scenario, but it's a completely different beast.
posted by emptythought at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do not admit to owing any money. Not over the phone, not in writing, not in print.

Nthing the question - Is the power company asking for this money? Or a collection agency??

Did you cancel your service? Switch the name on the bill? Do you have anything in writing confirming cancellation (a verification email, maybe?) Did you use a cell phone to make the cancellation call to the power company? If you know the month and year you cancelled, you can look up their number on your old phone bill to prove you contacted them, even if you have no notes on that phone call....

In short, your first step is to write to whoever is saying you owe money and ask them for verification of the debt. You also want this entity (if it is a collection agency) to verify in writing that they are legally entitled to collect on this debt.

Next step (on whatever grounds, depending what the written responses are) is to write and deny that you owe any money. If it is the power company, tell them you don't owe any money & ask them to provide proof they sent a bill for $12 that was ignored. If you have some kind of proof that you contacted them around the time that you moved out (maybe to cancel or switch the bill?) then tell you have phone records from X date proving you called them and their accounting is in error.

If the money is owed to a collection agency, they might not even legally own your debt, and your letter demanding verification might have shut this down.

In the meantime, pull your credit. Is this debt on there? Write the credit agencies and dispute the debt. There are directions online how to do this.

Basically, contest it until you win. If you can't win, offer to pay the $12 you owed and nothing more. I would go to the mat on this.

Don't pay any interest. If you owe $12, pay the $12.

Now. What's the deal with your ex-partner? Did they stay on in the unit? Did they cancel the bill or switch the name on the bill to theirs? Do they have proof they paid or cancelled the service (emails? phone records? Bank statement proving they paid the final bill??)

If your partner stayed on in the unit and ignored this bill, they are not your friend anymore.

I don't understand how you neglected the power account if it was in your name. I'm assuming you called, canceled, and a final bill was mailed after everyone moved? They should have notified you a final bill was being mailed, ask for a forwarding addy, or simply asked for payment of the phone at the time of cancellation.

If you clarified those questions around the move-out details, I might have better advice, but more or less I outlined the procedure for calling bullshit on this $12 fiasco.

Hope this info helps.
posted by jbenben at 5:11 PM on July 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

There must be some late fees or the bill never got taken out of your name. Assuming the usually monthly bill was 12 bucks, that 400 dollars is easily someone else's usage bill plus late fees. Maybe your ex's or maybe the people who moved in after you.

The issue here is you're responsible for getting the utilities out of your name when you move. You need to call and ask how the charges accumulated and you can ask for leniency. You are likely to get the late fees reversed. The monthly charges less so since you did since the onus is on your to terminate billing when you move.

* I worked for a power company in the US. This situation happens fairly frequently.
posted by 26.2 at 5:20 PM on July 24, 2015

It really depends on how much $400 matters to you. If you can swing it, jut pay it and never think about it again. Or spend a lot of time negotiating, trying to scare up years-old phone records and whatnot to get the bill reduced.

And if the $400 is interest and penalties on a bill you never paid, then shouldn't you, you know, pay it?
posted by paulcole at 6:21 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

jbenben pretty much covered all the bases and has offered some great advice. But I wanted to add something because of:

Can I complain that they never contacted me to ask for the money?

Yes, you could certainly complain about never receiving a paper statement, but if Canadian utilities are anything like American credit card companies* and utilities it'll have little impact. Sending you a paper statement is considered a courtesy to you and they could argue that you owe a payment (and you KNOW you owe a payment per the original contract and previous bills you have received) regardless of whether or not you receive a paper statement that month (or at all).

If you intend to use this approach to get the bill reduced, I'd be prepared for the utility company to push back. Especially because it's been so long. When you tell them you never got the bill, they'll ask to verify your address -- and when you inform them you moved, they'll ask why you never contacted them to stop service/change the address/pay the final bill. Honestly? They've heard: 'But I'm only paying late/now because I didn't get a statement from you' many, many times before and there's little sympathy for it.

* I worked for a major credit card company for a few years; in the US, many seem to operate largely like utility companies in their billing methods. YMMV in Canada.
posted by stubbehtail at 9:09 PM on July 24, 2015

It's probably late fees PLUS interests, PLUS collection costs.

I'd say offer them a compromise. Deny you ever got the bill, blame it on your then partner, but offer them a way out: you'll pay $100 for the whole thing to go away. Tell them $100 for $12 bill is already ridiculous, but you believe it's an efficient use of their time and yours. But no way you're paying $400+.

OTOH, you need to dig up some evidence for your side in case you do make a fight for it, like did you left a forwarding address, did you close the account, did you change your phone number, etc. etc.
posted by kschang at 11:08 PM on July 24, 2015

I can't believe nobody has mentioned it's impossible for $12 to turn into $400 in 2 years from interest alone. That comes out to an annualized interest rate of 477%. That would be an insanely usurious rate even for a pawn shop, let alone a Canadian government-owned public utility.

What you need to do is call them, get to a person, and ask why you are being charged $400. Ask for a breakdown of the fees. Maybe it's just a mistake. But you can't know anything until you understand why you are being charged.
posted by pravit at 9:17 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, you need to call them. As for a bill turning that large: When I lived in Brooklyn I screwed up and didn't notify Con-Ed about my move and so they decided to charge me the max they could every month until after a year they found me and sent me a bill for about $16,000. After sorting it out and reading my meter it came down to a rather correct $800ish. Which is to say, you gotta call them. It might be interest, collection, or they're somehow still charging you.
posted by homesickness at 11:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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