Utility company Wyse Meter Solutions has agreed to change the way it bills customers after the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) found several of its billing practices did not comply with provincial laws and regulations, Global News has learned.
The changes include fixes to how Wyse discloses customer service and administration fees to new customers, plus changes to how Wyse bills certain university students in Ontario.
“The OEB’s inspection found that Wyse was not complying with certain requirements regarding the disclosure of information to customers,” said a statement published on the OEB’s website late Monday.
“In particular, the company was (a) not disclosing its fees and charges with the first bill sent to a customer … (b) not disclosing all fees and charges in its contract with customers … and (c) not displaying all the information on customer bills.”
“Following inspection, Wyse made changes to its bills and contracts to rectify these issues,” the OEB said.
Concerns about Wyse’s billing practices first came to the OEB’s attention following complaints in December 2018 and after a Global News investigation that showed Wyse was sending individual bills to roommates living in privately owned student housing complexes based on readings from a single electricity meter.
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But exactly how these changes will affect students’ bottom line remains unclear. That’s because Wyse will not say how much students who live in these complexes will pay for their “by the bed” billing services.
In addition to changing how it discloses fees and the way it bills some students, Wyse also agreed to pay the OEB an “administrative penalty” of $65,000.
Wyse’s student billing practices
Wyse is a submetering company. Submetering companies allow landlords to shift the cost of utilities from one bill for an entire building to individual bills for tenants by installing submeters for each apartment.
Wyse has said that, on average, customers of submetering companies in Ontario save about $117 a year compared to customers of companies such as Toronto Hydro.
But an investigation by Global News into Wyse’s billing practices at a student housing complex in St. Catharines, Ont., showed roommates were sent individual bills based on readings from a single electricity meter. Some of the bills included what appeared to be separate administration fees and service charges.
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Global News also discovered that Wyse customers at another student housing property in Oshawa were charged for gas and electricity even though Wyse had not installed gas or electricity submeters. In this case, charges were based off of bills issued by two other utility companies.
What’s more, students who lived in the building claimed their energy costs doubled — even tripled — after Wyse took over billing at their apartments.
“There’s no good reason that our utility bills should be increasing just because a different company takes over,” said Chris Brown, an engineering student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who spoke with Global News in March.
Wyse did not explain its billing practices at the Oshawa student housing property during Global News’ initial investigation.
The company did, however, apologize for the confusion its billing policies caused and refunded amounts improperly billed to students. Wyse also reduced administration fees following several student complaints.
Unclear what changes mean for customers
As part of the company’s voluntary assurance to the OEB, Wyse has agreed to change its student housing billing practices by sending each roommate a copy of the monthly bill for their entire apartment. These invoices will not be used for billing purposes, but will instead show students the total amount of electricity used in their apartment, plus the total cost of all electricity-related charges.
Students will then receive individual bills that include their share of the electricity fees — the total cost of electricity divided by the number of roommates — plus other “account-specific charges” that each person must pay.
WATCH: ‘I’ve been ripped off’ — Ontario utility company sent roommates identical bills based off one meter
Global News asked Wyse how much students will pay in “account-specific charges” under this new billing model. The company declined to provide details.
The company did, however, say students will need to agree to all specific charges before becoming a customer and that it believes Monday’s decision from the OEB confirms that individual billing at student housing complexes in Ontario is allowed.
“While we disagree with the OEB’s inspection findings on some of the legal conclusions, we opted to work with them to provide our customers, and all submetering customers in Ontario, with clarity, transparency and understandability,” said Wyse co-CEO Ian Stewart in a written statement.
The company has previously said that for student housing, it divides the total electricity cost for each apartment by the number of roommates. Wyse has also said it should be allowed to bill customers individually who live in “purpose-built” student housing because they have separate leases with their landlords.
Low-income subsidy not meant for students
Another consequence of the OEB’s inspection is that Wyse says it will no longer advise customers who live in student housing that they may qualify individually for the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), a taxpayer-funded subsidy meant to help low-income households pay their hydro bills.
As Global News reported, Wyse customers who shared apartments at the St. Catharines and Oshawa properties were encouraged to apply for — and in some cases received — the $45 monthly OESP credit on an individual basis, even though the government has said the program was intended to be used as a single credit for an entire household.
WATCH: Students claim Ontario utility company ‘taking advantage’ of low-income hydro subsidy
This caused some Wyse customers to claim the company was “taking advantage” of taxpayers by charging high fees to students and then telling them to apply for a government subsidy when they complained.
For its part, Wyse has always maintained that the OEB decides who is approved for the OESP funding.
Following the approval of Bill 66 earlier this year by Premier Doug Ford’s government, the OEB no longer has the authority to regulate energy rates charged by submetering companies in Ontario. This includes administration fees.