Richmond gas customer concerned over estimated billing practices

Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 1:08 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2023 at 6:33 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - David Mitchell is becoming all too familiar with how to read his gas meter outside his home. He lives in Henrico County, but gets his gas from Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities.

“So I went out there and looked the day I got the statement. I think it was at like 38 and they estimated it to be 119,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell’s ordeal started at the end of 2021 when he noticed the gas bill for his new house was higher than expected.

He reached out multiple times to DPU, and was given differing reasons about why his bill kept going up. But then he found out several of those high bills were based off an estimate, not the actual usage.

“I knew they were high, so I just wasn’t paying them, and so by this time, my outstanding balance was somewhere around $725, and they came out and read my meter and it dropped from about $725 to $94 for six months plus of gas usage,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell says he finally got things resolved by last summer only to have the same issue happen again last month. Another estimated bill, says Mitchell, to the tune of $857. After fighting with DPU again, he says the bill went down to around $200.

He’s worried other gas customers aren’t paying attention and shelling out more than they should.

“If people don’t know that this E means estimated and they’re paying this bill, they could be paying way too much or what I’ve also learned is they could be paying way too little. And someday they’re going to actually read the meter and they’re going to get a massive bill because it’s been estimated too low,” said Mitchell.

DPU declined a request for an interview, but did release the following statement:

Customer bills are generated via information obtained from meters. DPU employs meters that are read electronically as a computer-equipped truck drives by a residence or business, picking up signals. If the signal from the electronic reading device is blocked or unresponsive, the utility bill may be estimated based on previous usage. Estimated readings will be reflected on the utility bill with an “E” and may also occur when the meter box is covered by objects such as mulch, flowerbeds, trashcans, vehicles, or access is denied by a locked gate, large animal or inside location. Once an actual read is obtained, customers may notice a fluctuation in their bill with either a credit or a balance due. DPU strives to limit estimating bills as much as possible.

DPU is working through estimated billing backlogs created by the pandemic. Though hampered by higher-than-usual staff vacancy rates (as with most organizations), DPU is working diligently to address customer issues in a timely manner and seamless fashion. DPU is committing to communicate with customers when a major variance occurs, with options for paying that balance in installments.

DPU also shares their efforts about exploring new technologies that will drive greater efficiencies into processes and enhance the overall customer experience. DPU encourages any customer with concerns about their bill to contact us at 804-646-4646 or via email at dpucustserv@rva.govfor an account review. The busiest days of the week are Mondays and Tuesdays.

“Working through backlogs, reducing estimated bills and stabilizing customer service levels is a high priority for DPU,” said DPU Director April Bingham in the statement.

She also notes that DPU is hiring and invites those interested in helping serve the community to visit for employment opportunities.