OfReg’s oversight of water companies

| 20/09/2018

CNS Local Life(Auntie): On Monday I answered a question from a reader who had received an eye-popping bill from Cayman Water (see Consumer hit with US$25K water bill), and said that I had contacted the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) for its input and would let readers know when I heard from them. Given the public interest in this issue, I’ve dedicated this column to OfReg’s response.

First off, OfReg does have oversight. An official with the regulator’s Energy and Utilities division explained that OfReg is responsible for the regulation of the water sector, which includes the production, distribution, supply and treatment of water.

“The Water Sector Regulation Law, 2017 (the WSR Law) outlines the functions of the Office in relation to the regulation of the water sector in section 3(2). OfReg is responsible for the regulation of Cayman Water Company, as well as for the regulation of all service providers and holders of operator licences as defined in the WSR Law,” the official said.

In addition, OfReg is “wrapping up licence negotiations with Cayman Water which will necessitate the utility to adopt Customer Service Performance Standards”. Under its consumer protection mandate, he added, one initiative of OfReg will be “to ensure that both water providers are proactively publishing each of their respective policies on how leaks are detected and treated”.

Noting that the situation faced by the reader “does appear to be unfortunate”, the official added “it is important that OfReg takes the necessary measures to ensure that the water providers are actively notifying their customers of their rights and responsibilities on their side of the meter”.

Now, if I’m reading that correctly, this means that the water providers must make sure we all know that if we get a $25,000 bill, we’ll know in advance that we’ll have to pay.

There is, however, a complaints procedure. OfReg recommends giving the provider, in this case Cayman Water, a chance to address the issue. Clearly, the reader has already tried that, so if the customer isn’t satisfied he or she can approach OfReg.

To make a complaint, OfReg requires the following:

  1. Full name along with a phone number and email or postal address (include physical address if it would assist in understanding the complaint);
  2. Account number with the sectoral provider relating to the complaint;
  3. Brief description of the complaint;
  4. Identity of the sectoral provider by (official/legal) name;
  5. The date, time and name of any programme, individual, advertisement, technical, or customer services-related issue that prompted the complaint;
  6. The response, if any, given by the sectoral provider when the complaint was first raised with them, along with any (relevant) subsequent communication(s) that may have occurred in relation to the complaint, including dates and times where possible;
  7. (Specific) product(s) or service for which the complaint relates;
  8. Property, plant or equipment implicated or affected as a consequence of the issue;
  9. Any independent, third-party entity or expertise consulted as part of the effort to resolve the matter.

A complaint can be submitted through the OfReg website, by email or by hand-delivering a completed complaint form.

Once the complaint is received, containing all relevant information and documentation, OfReg staff will review it and contact the provider.

“OfReg, as part of its effort to remedy/resolve the issue, generally afford the sectoral provider involved a final opportunity to address the concerns before OfReg reaches any conclusions,” said the official. As part of this review, OfReg will look at the provider’s response, considering its policies and regulation, to determine if follow-up action is necessary.

“Where the parties are unable to resolve the issue, the customer may request the office make a formal decision on the matter,” the official explained. The next step for OfReg would be reviewing all of the information provided by both parties and write its decision within two weeks of when all relevant documentation was received, depending on the complexity of the complaint.

Once finalised, the decision will be sent to both parties and then published on OfReg’s website after necessary redactions, and may include one or more remedies, if appropriate.

The official also pointed out that OfReg recently did a consultation on proposed Consumer Complaints Appeals Procedure Guidelines, which outline the procedures explained here in more detail. “We plan to issue a determination on these guidelines soon,” the official added.

I do hope that the reader who faces that $25,000 water bill does submit a complaint to OfReg. This is the kind of thing that could happen to anyone and we’d all be interested in the outcome.

I said in my answer to this question and will repeat here, in case anyone in the LA or at OfReg is listening, that where excessive consumption of a utility is not the fault of the consumer, as was the case here, there should be a reasonable cap on the additional amount that the consumer should be expected to pay.

The law mentioned in this column is in the CNS Library

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Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Read your meter one a week

  2. Crab Claw says:

    The WA takes no responsibility, I had an issue with them a few months back with a property the WA came and read the meter two times during the the leak within the space of a week, so they knew something was up and when we found out about the leak after noticing it via their online billing, we found a standing pool of water next to the meter, there was no way when they measured that meter the second time they could have seen that, but they still refused to contact us about the issue, lastly I found out that the meter was connected on my side close to the surface, which if they knew that was an issue why did they allow it from the start, and for all I know deep down I still wonder the line might have been damaged by them.
    They refused to budge on the cost of water lost and had a we don’t care it isn’t our business to notify you of and issue reply when we ask what the heck?

  3. Anonymous says:

    OfReg’s answer is as clear as mud. I hope they use this opportunity to put some protection and teeth into the law to protect the consumers before granting them another license.

    These acts are immoral if not criminal when particularly when this is water that they get for free and only pay to desalinate and pump it to homes..They could at least charge this customer at “cost” to help him in some manner.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Was the pipe repaired or it just stopped leaking? If the former, was the cause of the leak determined? Age? Corrosion? Something else? I hope they kept the pipe for a future expertise and evidence.
    I wouldn’t pay a penny and make this case a precedent for all future “water leak” court cases.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Please confirm you made a complaint and keep us updated. Thanks

  6. Anonymous says:

    I am thankful that I have a cistern and did not bother to connect to city water. This kind of unfortunate situation was why I decided not to.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Maybe everybody should build a cistern or if the have an old well they should hook up to that and then see what the water company will do???
    Or maybe to support the customer in question maybe we should all refuse to pay our bill see how far that will go.
    We can always use the water from the public beaches as other people do.

    • Nostra Damn Us says:

      Good idea back in the day but the same Authority has allowed our freshwater lenses to be decimated by sewage, fuels and toxic runoff from burning of construction/demolition waste. The Water Authority only pays lip service to protection of natural freshwater resources since fostering it is bad for their own business.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ok conspiracy theorist. You also believe MRCU is purposely giving us cancer by spraying too.

  8. 834410 Gallons of Water says:

    I am the renter of the property that is the subject of the $25k (it actually is $26,105.02 US) bill. We are still baffled as to where 834,410 gallons of water went in 27 billing days. There was absolutely NO leaks, puddles, broken sprinklers, no running toilets….nothing. We do have two teenage daughters, but geez. The water bill in July was $86.89. Absolutely insane that Cayman Water had no way of noticing a very large draw and demand for water in a residential neighborhood.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’ll be up to a judge and a jury to decide who is at fault here. There are many unknowns here. Cayman Water must first prove there was a leak. And the meter was working properly. And if there was a leak, what caused the leak. Quality of the pipes and installation, who inspected the job and issued a certificate of inspection. Does the service contract between the homeowner and Cayman Water conspicuously spell out homeowner’s responsibility for detecting underground leaks and provide guidance?
      It is hard to prove a murder without a body. Classic defense.
      Where is the water, that allegedly leaked? A crazy spinning meter proves nothing.

    • Ron Ebanks says:

      A water bill of $86.89 is also insane and damn well crooked and highway robbery . I know that demand has alot to do with cost of water . I pay for water that can be drank from the faucet for $16.00 per month .

  9. Bleak outlook says:

    OfReg have lost all credibility. It would be a complete waste of time complaining to them.

    • Capt. Pugwash says:

      Agree but saying they lost credibility is an embellishment. They never had it in the first place!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Based on the laughable $286,000 deterrent handed down recently to Sol, the “exemplary” corporate citizen, I wouldn’t put a great deal of faith in OfReg’s power of negotiation, given their permissive crony-entrenched mindset works in opposition to the idea of consumer protection.

  11. Ron Ebanks says:

    Mr. Choudhury is right when he said that there’s too much damn bureaucrat bullshit going on in the Islands . Just look at how much bs that one has to do just to make a complaint to OFReg .
    Then why is OFReg in control over every/all commodities of the Islands ? They shouldn’t be , because they at OFReg aren’t professionally certified/qualified to handle every commodity .

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to know the outcome of what happens if they do go to OfReg. I’d also like to know that if the consumer is getting screwed OfReg has funds to help these people fight them in court. They win, you get damages plus and then pay back OfReg and hope these companies learn their lesson.

    Going back to all those comments:

    -Lots of misterious leaks that were somehow fixed by nice plumber elves.

    -Lots of high water bills without proper notification before the owed amount is outrageous.

    -Guesstimate invoices.

    It’s obvious something is fishy. I’m going to start reading my meter every month on the 1st so I can keep track of what is happening. How annoying I have to do the water cos job and still pay them. What BS.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why not read it weekly or daily? If you have the money, and like to play with phone Apps, there is a local company that will automatically notify you of how much water you are using and give alerts if it exceeds a certain threshold.

      • Anonymous says:

        Because then I’d have to pay them too!

      • Anonymous says:

        Not once I ever looked at the meters. And I owned several properties in different states. I didn’t even know where meters were.
        What are the causes of leaking water supply pipes in Cayman? Would be interesting to know.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s a mistery. I’ve never had to monitor it either but will now.