Bill switch from paper to online leads to water disconnect

October 26, 2010 3:54:32 PM PDT
An effort to save the city money led to a big problem with a Houston resident's water bill. Her water was cut off because she did not pay her bill, but the customer says the bill never arrived. The city of Houston wants consumers to switch from getting water bills in the mail to getting them by e-mail. However, for one woman the switch left her without a bill and without water too.

Elaine Conran can enjoy a glass of water today, but last week the tap went dry. Conran says she did not get a water bill last month, but figured she'd get one the next billing cycle. A bill never arrived in the mail.

"I did not get a water bill for September, did not really think about it much. I figured I would get one in October and pay them both, and I came out of the house and there was a disconnect notice on my door," said Conran.

It turns out Houston's Department of Public Works had an email address on file for Conran and had been sending both email bills and paper bills to her for some time. But recently the city stopped sending paper bills, and just sent email bills.

"We sent out an email notice as well as paper bills to all our customers advising them here is an option to go to e-billing and that's what we prefer that you do. She received one, she received the email, but she did not respond to us so her billing went to email," said Alvin Wright of the City Of Houston Public Works.

However, Conran says she never knew about the e-bill switch.

"It had gone to an email address I no longer use and had not used in a couple of years," Conran said.

Public works officials say they started sending e-bills only to Conran in April, and sent another in May, but by June email delivery failure notices started appearing. So the city sent a paper bill and the three month balance was paid in full.

Then in July another e-bill was sent and it too resulted in an email delivery failure, so the city sent another paper bill and again the balance was paid. The city sent e-bills in August and September, but got no payment. In October the water was cut off.

The city says it's up to the consumer to make sure there address information is correct.

"The customer, the rate payer, has a responsibility in regards to their bill," said Wright.

Conran was charged a reconnection fee, however the city did waive the much more expensive deposit fee and it has deleted Conran's online account profile, so she will only get paper bills in the future.

So how can you keep this from happening? If you are getting e-bills and change your email address, don't forget to change it on all your online accounts.


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