How to Stand Up to Your Utility Company—And Win

A TURN member was over-charged, but a customer service rep told her there was nothing she could do about it. Sound familiar? Follow these easy steps to resolve billing disputes and other consumer complaints.

One of our long-time TURN members asked about a billing dispute she was having with Pacific Gas & Electric. She was feeling very discouraged since she had already tried calling the company twice and had simply gotten the run-around. Since she was leaving the country in less than a week for a summer vacation, she was anxious to resolve the issue before her trip.

The problem began when our TURN member called PG&E to request a name change on her account. Without telling her they would do so, PG&E changed not only her name but her rate schedule as well, from Time of Use (E-6) to basic rate (E-1)! This change substantially increased her monthly bill—the E-6 rate rewards her for using less electricity during periods of high demand by charging her less during non-peak periods. A representative told her, after the fact, that PG&E policy states when any change is made on the account, service is changed to E1, leading her to believe there was just nothing she could do about it.

As we explained to this consumer, it is important to have a strategy in mind before calling your utility. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes during your call. Write down the date and time of your call, and get the name of the representative and their direct extension if they have one. Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager right away.

In this case, we told our member to remember three main points, and to stick to those points no matter what. That way, if the representative gave her the run-around, she would not get side-tracked:

  1. PG&E should have disclosed their policy clearly to her before making the change on her account. By not disclosing their policy to her, they took away the choice she and all customers are entitled to.

  2. Clearly state the specific resolution you are seeking. In this case, the resolution needed was for PG&E to put her back on E-6 rates and adjust her previous bills to reflect the rate schedule she had chosen.

  3. Let the company know that you will file a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission if your complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction.

Our member called PG&E, stuck to these three points, and successfully got them to switch back her service, retroactive to May 11th, the date she’d initially requested the name change.

Resolving her complaint helped her realize that we, as consumers, can stand up to the utilities and win. She now plans to take her activism to the next step by trying to sign up 100 new TURN members! Click here to become a member.

Download a fact sheet on how to file a complaint.
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Plan: It is important to have a strategy in mind before calling your utility.

Take notes: Have a pen and paper ready to take notes during your call.

Include details: Write down the date and time of your call, and get the name of the representative, if you can and their direct extension if they have one.

Escalate: Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager right away.

File a complaint: If that fails, you should file a complaint with the CPUC immediately