Exclusive: Hydro One to reconnect more than 1,400 customers currently without power

Click to play video: 'Ontario mother describes her family’s struggles to pay high hydro bills and losing power for 6 months'
Ontario mother describes her family’s struggles to pay high hydro bills and losing power for 6 months
(Dec. 06) The mother of an Ontario family describes how her family’s hydro was disconnected after they were unable to keep paying thousands for their power. After 6 months, her hydro was reconnected thanks to a Global News report – Dec 6, 2016

In a dramatic shift in policy, Hydro One – Ontario’s largest utility provider – is planning to reconnect more than 1,400 customers living without electricity.

The move comes after a Global News investigation into rising electricity costs across Ontario.

READ MORE: After 6 months without power, Ontario family reconnected by Hydro One

In a statement obtained by Global News, Hydro One’s executive vice president of customer care, Ferio Pugliese, said the company is reaching out to some 1,400 customers without power to arrange reconnection for the remainder of the winter and to set up payment plans customers can “afford.”

“We are changing the way we do business and by doing so we are reviewing all of our customer-facing policies and practices, including how we care for our most vulnerable customers.”

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WATCH: As many as 1400 Hydro One customers can look forward to a warmer holiday this year. The largest utility in the province has agreed to restore hydro to disconnected customers after months of Global News reporting on the issue. Sean O’Shea has more. 
Click to play video: 'Hydro restoring power to 1,400  customers'
Hydro restoring power to 1,400 customers

In addition to working with customers to ensure payment plans are both flexible and manageable, Pugliese says Hydro One has authorized front-line customer service operators to make decisions and take immediate action to assist customers with reconnection.

In 2015, Hydro One disconnected nearly 10,000 residential customers from their electricity services, roughly one per cent of their total customer base.  At present, 1,425 Hydro One customers are living without power.

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READ MORE: Ontario seniors forced to move due to sky high hydro rates

Last year, utility providers across Ontario disconnected roughly 60,000 customers. And while the vast majority – upward of 95 per cent – of customers are reconnected within two business days, the skyrocketing cost of energy has left hundreds of thousands of families in the province incapable of paying their bills.

The Hydro One Winter Relief Program, which launches Wednesday, will not include debt forgiveness, says Pugliese, but will help customers by relaxing certain rules and policies surrounding reconnection.

“Forgiving debt is not something we’re in a position to do,” said Pugliese.

“We need to be fair to all customers … to ensure that we don’t have a rate-base of customers that are actually paying – that are offsetting – for those that are not.”

As a part of the program, Hydro One says it will waive reconnection fees and electrical safety inspection charges for customers currently without power – a move Pugliese says will save customers hundreds of dollars.

READ MORE: Ontario community sees 25% rise in Hydro One customers seeking financial help 

The company says it will also monitor those it reconnects to ensure they remain up-to-date on their bills and to direct them toward additional assistance programs if needed.

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Pugliese says this shift in policy is a recognition by Hydro One needs greater  reasonableness and flexibility in the way utility providers interact with customers.

WATCH: Disconnected Hydro One customers to have electricity by Christmas. Mike Drolet reports.

Click to play video: 'Disconnected Hydro One customers to have electricity by Christmas'
Disconnected Hydro One customers to have electricity by Christmas

“Nothing would give us obviously more pleasure than to see these customers that are disconnected be in a position where they could remain connected for a long period of time,” Pugliese said.

While Pugliese stopped short of saying there’s a moral imperative for utility providers to keep customers connected to their electricity services, he acknowledged that companies such as Hydro One need to do better at assessing customers’ needs and exercising greater caution before performing disconnections.

“We think over the course of the next five to seven days we should have them all reconnected,” said Pugliese. “It’s going to be based on us reaching people, making contact with them, and them making contact with us.”

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Hydro One customers currently without power can reach out to the Hydro One Winter Relief Program by contacting the company’s customer communications centre at 1-888-664-9376 or by visiting the company’s website.

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