Help Me Convince The Electric Company That We Are Not Going To Stiff Them
August 18, 2007 1:00 AM   Subscribe

We received a menacing letter today from our electric provider. They stated that since our last few bills have been late (which I don't dispute) we will now be required to pay a $200 "security deposit"... BUT... We have a 13-year payment history with them, at the same address, so where is the logic in suddenly requiring a "security deposit" that we obviously can't afford? Is there any way I can convince them to not do this to us? Please read the background info inside before responding.

I called the customer service number on the letter and explained to them that we have been late with our payments because of extenuating circumstances (mainly medical bills)... BUT, the thing that really burns me about this is, they claim it's for the "security" of the account (i.e. they want the $200 on deposit in case we leave them with an unpaid bill) but we have lived in the same house for 13 years! We have a 13-year payment history with them. And yes, our bills have been chronically late recently, but they've never been unpaid (our service has never been shut off). The person I talked to at customer service transferred me to her manager after she lamely claimed "I can't do anything for you, the computer told us to collect the deposit"... But the manager said the same thing... I kept reiterating that if they were truly concerned about the "security" of the account, they could easily see that we have lived at the same residence for 13 years and we have never not paid the bill (although, yes, we have been late)... I said "We've lived here for 13 years, and we've always paid our bill. It should be obvious that we're not going to take off in the middle of the night and leave you with unpaid charges."

Finally she told me that she would have her supervisor call me back, but it wouldn't be until Monday. If you've read this far, please give me some advice as to what I can say on Monday to this "supervisor" to get her/him to understand that we cannot afford an extra $200 charge (and that we don't deserve it)... If they're truly worried about "account security" they can research our account history and see that we are trustworthy. Otherwise, it's just gimmick to gouge the customers who can least afford it. For Chrissakes, if we can barely pay our bill, what makes them think we can afford an extra $200!?

(btw, I can't choose a different electric company, this one is the only game in town)
posted by amyms to Law & Government (30 answers total)
Can you make them think that you'll try a different company?

What would happen if you just didn't pay it?
posted by Solomon at 1:09 AM on August 18, 2007

Thanks for your response, Solomon...

I can't even make them think I'll try a different company. There is no different company here in the sticks...

And, I don't know what would happen if I didn't pay it (assuming you mean the deposit)... I'm guessing it will be included as part of our bill, and if we don't pay it they will shut us off... I need to convince them that we don't deserve to be charged for it at all.
posted by amyms at 1:13 AM on August 18, 2007

Get the name and title of this supervisor/manager and then tell your perfectly reasonable story to them. If they are too stupid to understand it, ask for their supervisor's name and title until to get up the ladder to someone who can authorize overriding the computer's execution of policy. Your argument is perfectly reasonable. Putting it in writing to one of the higher ups is your second choice if you get to the level of someone who is too busy, as they may say, to talk to you. Again, have their name and title on the letter and direct it to them.
posted by Listener at 1:17 AM on August 18, 2007

Thanks, Listener... It's comforting to hear from an unbiased source that my argument is reasonable... But, my fear is that I will be passed up the ladder and that every person will say the same as the first, "Sorry, we can't do anything about it, the computer told us to collect the deposit"... But, I will endeavor to be bumped up to as many supervisory levels as they will allow me to reach... Arrrgh... I feel like I'm at my wits' end... I'm just looking for something I can say that will convince them that my argument really is reasonable.
posted by amyms at 1:21 AM on August 18, 2007

Does your local paper have an "ActionLine" column or some other community ombudsman you can call upon to intervene on your behalf? Your argument is perfectly reasonable but you may need a bigger voice in your corner to make yourself heard.
posted by mosk at 1:39 AM on August 18, 2007

amyms, it is reasonable.

You seem to be searching for a magic phrase you can use to solve the problem instantly. Sadly, no such thing exists. You're simply going to have to walk the long and annoying road of phonecalls and escalation. That said, there's no reason to be at your wit's end: you need merely repeat the same thing you've been saying numerous times. This is annoying, but you can reassure and calm yourself out of crisis mode because this is not a crisis. Due to electricity's necessity in modern society, it's a heavily regulated industry, and as long as you continue to pay your bill they're going to have a hard time shutting it off.

The only thing I'll add is that leaving this solely to phonecalls is a bad idea. Draft a letter, print two copies, sign them, and send one to the company's customer service address. Building a trail of documents is both easy and important.

I'd also consider contacting the local Better Business Bureau and see if they have anything to say or suggest.
posted by kavasa at 1:43 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is what i was looking for - the Executive Email Carpet Bomb.
posted by Solomon at 1:56 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The calls you do make you should be sure to document the time of your call, and the name of the employee you spoke with, as well as a summary of what you and they said. Recording the call (with their knowledge I guess) might be useful, but I'd only do it if it were convenient (which for me, it's not).

This goes for the power company, the BBB, the paper, anyone you talk to about this. It's good to have all the steps you've taken written down.
posted by aubilenon at 1:59 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone so far. Thank you again for reaffirming that my argument is reasonable (that means more to me than you'll ever know). You're all correct that phone calls are not going to get things done. I need to write a letter (and make copies of the letter) and make sure it gets to someone who can actually effect a solution (instead of just the monkeys who say "The computer told us to do it")... I appreciate all of your advice, because right now I'm in "poor me" mode and not feeling very level-headed about the situation.
posted by amyms at 2:37 AM on August 18, 2007

And to mosk, your suggestion would be great if we had a real newspaper lol... Our "paper" is about high school sports, 4-H, family reunions and gossip... I kid you not.
posted by amyms at 2:39 AM on August 18, 2007

Talking can work -- it did for me with the provincial motor vehicle department and they are about the worst -- but you have to absolutely insist on getting everyone's name and title, writing all this down, and insist on going up the ladder. When the person who can make the decision hears that at 8:45 you talk to Michelle, a customer service rep at such a number and she said this, on and on up the line, they will know you are not just a scammer but someone who pays attention to details, and they will see the idiotic runaround you got, and they will help you. 13 years at the same address with no actual problems with your bill. (A few days late is nothing.) This puts you in a very small group of very predictable people.
posted by Listener at 3:43 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never been in a situation like this, so forgive me if I'm missing something -- although I am a landlord and hear stories like this all the time...

Anyway, how are medical bills causing this? I prioritize my bills and medical bills would probably be last to pay for me. I would pay my rent or mortgage, my insurance and my utility bills first so I have a place to live. Next I pay whatever it takes for me to keep working, such as a car payment or for clothes or work uniforms. Finally I'd pay credit cards, cable, internet. Last I'd pay medical.

When people come to me to rent and have bad credit or judgements, and I see it's medical bills, I ignore the negative stuff, as I'm happy to see they pay their rent first.

Maybe this is a derail, as it's too late now. Put everything in writing, document your payment history, include why you have been chronically late, and lastly... do you need gas service? Can you change to electric appliances and plug in space heaters? I would at least threaten that to the gas company.

OR... consider checking into gov't assistance. I have had renters apply for emergency relief or $1500 or something to prevent eviction or turn of their utilties. Sure if you are having financial troubles you could apply for assistance and have them pay the deposit?
posted by thilmony at 4:41 AM on August 18, 2007

Applicable documents from the Kansas Corporation Commission. Note in particular page 10 of the Electric, Natural Gas and Water Billing Standards pdf.--here is where the State of Kansas spells out what electric utilities are allowed to do in regards to requiring deposits. If you already have service, this can be done in three situations:

the customer has outstanding, with the utility, an undisputed and unpaid service account which accrued within the last five (5) years if the service agreement was signed, or three (3) years if service was provided after an oral agreement.
The customer has, in an unauthorized manner, interfered with, or diverted or used (meter bypass), the service of the utility within the last five (5) years.
The customer fails to pay an undisputed bill before the delinquency date for three (3) consecutive billing periods, one of which is at least 60 days in arrears.

From what you've told us, it sounds like 1 and 2 do not apply. Don't know if 3 would apply. If it does not, then they do not have the right to require a deposit under Kansas regulations, and you can tell them that, and that you will complain to the Kansas Corporation Commission. (To start with, they have an online complaint form linked from the first link above.)

If 3 does apply to you, then you're basically asking them to make an exception for you, since the State of Kansas would allow them to ask for the deposit in that situation. Your goal then is to be nice and ask for special consideration. My hunch--and this is only a hunch--is that emphasizing that you're a good customer as you've been doing is the tactic to go with. In this situation, I wouldn't say things like "I can't pay the $200", since their motivation is to try and get prepayment from people who they think can't pay (rightly or wrongly).

(IANAL, etc. etc.)
posted by gimonca at 4:50 AM on August 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Wow gimonca, thank you! 1, 2 and 3 apply to my situation. Even though we've been late, we have never been 60 days in arrears (in fact, we've never been even 30 days late). Now I have something concrete to back up my argument (and a way to complain if they don't relent).
posted by amyms at 5:11 AM on August 18, 2007


are you saying that you have interfered with the meter readings (the number 2 option)?
posted by chookibing at 6:11 AM on August 18, 2007

the monkeys who say "The computer told us to do it"

I, too, think your argument is eminently reasonable, and you will likely get some satisfaction by continuing to escalate the situation. I just wanted to point out that the "monkeys" are just people like you and me who are doing their job and very likely have absolutely no discretion about what to do or when to do it, based on what their software/managers tell them to do. Certainly you want to spend as little time as possible talking to them and focus your attention on people with actual decision-making power, but please be polite and decent to these people -- especially since you catch more flies with honey, etc, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 AM on August 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

In addition to escalating within the company, find out if there's a public agency that regulates utilities. Talk to them. And talk to the Attorney General or Consumer Advocate, if your state has one.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 AM on August 18, 2007

Chookibing, I'm pretty sure from context that amyms meant to say that "1, 2 and 3 don't apply to my situation."
posted by SemiSophos at 7:21 AM on August 18, 2007

I'm going to echo what gimonca said above. Your states' Kansas Corporation Commission is there to protect you, specifically because you live in a regulated, non-competitive market. I would suggest calling them first thing Monday, and make sure you document all conversations about this issue, including dates and times, along with names of the people you speak with.
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:16 AM on August 18, 2007

I'm going to echo the "Document, document, document." When you're thinking about what you're saying and what you're keeping track of, think about how you would say it to a judge if you were in court.

"Your honor, sometime around August 18th, I got a letter from the electric company demanding a $200 deposit, which I can't pay and can prove I can't pay because I was late on my last bill."

"Your honor, on August 17th 2007 I received a letter via US postal mail from Electric Company X demanding a deposit payment of $200 due to a current account. The account, as noted on June and July of my past year's bills (exhibit 1), has been delinquent of a maximum of 15 days.

On August 17th, I contacted Electric Company X, the sole provider of service in my area, and requested clarification of teh reason I was to be charged a deposit. I spoke to Alice and her supervisor Bob on the phone, both of whom were unable to help and referred me to their supervisor.

On August 21st, I contacted Carol at the Kansas Corporation Commission. She helped explain that under the Water and Billing Standards of the KCC, I was not yet in a condition where the company should charge me a deposit. I relayed this information to David at the electric company when we spoke at 3pm that day."

... which one sounds better than you? Watch some Law & Order this weekend and learn to talk like a lawyer. ;) And get things in writing ... record monday's conversation with the electric company if you can ... as in, if it's legal in your state to do so. (There are many online services that will let you dial through a number for free and then email yourself the phone call.)
posted by SpecialK at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

are you saying that you have interfered with the meter readings (the number 2 option)?

I'm pretty sure from context that amyms meant to say that "1, 2 and 3 don't apply to my situation."

I meant that 1, 2 and 3 don't apply (sorry).

(1) We don't have an unpaid account. (2) We have never interfered with the meter. (3) We have never been even close to 60 days in arrears.

So, from the information in gimonca's link, I'm inferring that the electric company doesn't have the right to impose a "security deposit" on us (especially after 13 years of uninterrupted service at the same address). I'm keeping my fingers crossed until I hear from the "supervisor" on Monday. (And I will call the Kansas Corporation Commission beforehand, to get my ducks in a row and make sure the information I have is correct)...

Thanks again everyone!
posted by amyms at 2:02 PM on August 18, 2007

And to Rock Steady: Yes, I have been polite (but assertive) with the monkeys. That's how I got to the stage I'm at now, waiting for a manager's supervisor to call me back. I'm three-rungs up the ladder so far, and I'm wondering how many more I'll have to climb.
posted by amyms at 2:06 PM on August 18, 2007

I have had great luck going straight to the CEO with something that is so obviously ridiculous. 13 years of service? CEO time. They usually have troubleshooters that handle situations such as yours and it's amazing what power they have to make you happy. A simple phone call to the CEO's office and explain it calmly, friendly and rationally.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:26 PM on August 18, 2007

FWIW, not sure if this will help you, but... I recently had a medical bill that I can't afford. I called them proactively, and told them I lost my job recently and can't afford it. The woman on the line told me that as long as I keep them updated, they will keep it from going to collections. I send in a little bit when I can and that seems to keep them satisfied. Perhaps if you know your bill's going to be late, you can call ahead?
posted by IndigoRain at 5:29 PM on August 18, 2007

I know that here in NJ, PSE&G has a sort of contingency for the elderly and people with medical issues. I think that they tag your account noting the situation so that they don't automatically turn off service for nonpayment.

In terms of medical bills, are they copayments for prescriptions/dr. visits or just outstanding old stuff? If it's the old balance stuff, I would bump that down on the priority list. As long as you pay the medical people *something* (even as little as $5) they can't nail you for nonpayment/delinquency, nor can they harass you about it.

You might also want to look into public assistance options with regard to your utilities. There are funds set up in most states specifically for hardship situations.

I do have to admit, however, that I'm curious as to what the utility company would do if you didn't send them the $200...
posted by dancinglamb at 6:36 PM on August 18, 2007

I work for a utility company, not in Kansas. People with extenuating circumstances like yours often call our corporate communications person (the person whose name and phone number are on the company's press releases, which you'll find on their web site). You could do this concurrently with working your way up the "customer service" chain. You'll have more chance of talking to the communications person, who might intercede for you if you're well-spoken and polite, than trying to call the CEO directly.
posted by Joleta at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2007

Do you have AEP electric? This happened to me for paying between 10 and 15 days late a half dozen times over the course of a year. They agreed to bill me in three installments instead of the whole thing at once. Incidentally they gave it all back after a years worth of on time payments. They actually said the contract reads that they can collect a deposit amount equal to your average bill after one late payment because they didn't collect one when we signed up for electrical service.

Not the answer you want, but might give you an idea of what their practices are.
posted by domino at 7:22 AM on August 20, 2007

And to Rock Steady: Yes, I have been polite (but assertive) with the monkeys. That's how I got to the stage I'm at now, waiting for a manager's supervisor to call me back. I'm three-rungs up the ladder so far, and I'm wondering how many more I'll have to climb.

I certainly didn't mean to imply you hadn't been, I just always like to remind people in Customer Service Hell that (sadly) the monkeys the public interact with are usually not the monkeys responsible for the situation, and that they are usually more inclined to help you if you are reasonable and sane-acting. I mean, they've got enough trouble trying to type Hamlet during their coffee breaks...
posted by Rock Steady at 3:02 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Update: It's Monday (well, Tuesday now since it's the middle of the night), and the "supervisor" never called me back... If I don't hear from someone tomorrow, I'm going to call back and try to bypass most of the ladder, if I can. I have the Kansas Corporation Commission guidelines to back me up that the utility company is out of line in charging me a "security deposit" after 13 years of uninterrupted service (thanks again to gimonca for the link).

And, you're absolutely right, Rock Steady. The person who answers the phone is not at fault for what's happening (I know this, and can sympathize, because I've been a monkey myself before, although not with a utility company). But, I believe the utility company execs purposefully put the monkeys there to thwart those of us who have legitimate complaints (they accomplish this task in between their shifts of typing "Hamlet," of course). I'm always polite, but if they give me the "corporate-speak" runaround, I quickly move into assertiveness mode: "If you can't help me, please transfer me to someone who can."

*puts on ladder-climbing gloves and waits for daybreak*
posted by amyms at 1:45 AM on August 21, 2007

Final Update: I finally got to talk to one of the supervisors who was actually capable of making a decision (and, more importantly, had the authority to do so). After a brief and cordial conversation (I didn't even have to get tough or assertive), she agreed to waive the security deposit. Yay!

Thanks again for the very helpful answers and encouragement.
posted by amyms at 12:54 PM on August 24, 2007

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