Friday, February 15, 2013

An Epcorific Failure

Please note, the information released in this blog post has been authorized by the family involved.

On February 13th, 2013, some urgent pleas for help appeared in the twitter time line, from a family here in Edmonton. This family has been having a major dispute with Epcor, and I think after reading a few facts, you will understand why. I would also like to mention that I know this family. They are extremely kind and honest people. They are also not very mechanically inclined and have procured a host of various contractors they have dealt with for years.

The owner of the property is an 86 year old woman who survived Stalin's World War II Forced Labor Camps. She and her husband eventually settled here in Edmonton and built a large duplex style house many years ago. One side to live in, the other side for family.As life happens, her husband passed away several years ago, and the "other side" was turned into a rental unit. Very well constructed, mirror images of each side, using a boiler and radiator system for heating.

I believe that sometime in January or February of 2012, the family received a phone call from Epcor, advising them they had detected unusually high water usage from the rental unit, which at the time was vacant. The property was immediately inspected, and there was no visible signs of water leaking or running, however a licensed plumber was also called in to perform a full investigation of the boiler system, radiators, taps and toilets. After a complete inspection and investigation, the plumber determined there were no faults, no leaks, and that everything was fine. The family contacted Epcor and said the property was inspected and no issues were found.

Shortly after that, a bill arrived, followed by another call from Epcor saying the water usage was still off the charts. Another investigation was done, the plumber was called back in again, everything was checked and again, nothing found. Truth be told, the plumber was actually there several times to monitor and check. The usual things like putting food coloring into toilet tanks to see if the flapper valve was leaking was done, yet no problems were detected.

I believe that over 2 consecutive billing periods, Epcor billed an amount that would be equal to filling up TWO city sized swimming pools. (Note... this statement was provided by Epcor when asked about consumption comparisons)

How could this be? Inspection after inspection found no problems, the rental unit was vacant, it was winter and certainly no one would be stealing water from a garden hose. Not THAT amount of water. And really, if there was a leak in a wall, well... I'm sure the house would have floated away on its own.

Shortly after this, and continuing on to the present day, Epcor has been hounding the family for the money, refusing to look at the plumbers statement of facts, and threatening continuously to disconnect the services. The family has been trying to get Epcor to deal with this, even to the point of having the water meter removed (at their expense) to be tested. The testing was supposed to be done with the family present, but that did not happen.

The family has refused to pay the "excess" charges because under the circumstances, it would seem there must be some other error involved. Epcor keeps demanding payment, never wants to discuss the issue for the most part, keeps tacking on interest and penalties,and keeps threatening to terminate services. The family has asked on numerous occasions what the exact amount is, and has been told amounts that vary between $750 and $1,150 dollars. I'm not quite sure how "what you owe" can vary like that. And they are also aware that if they DO "agree" to make payments on this over charge, then it's an admission of fault. And they simply do not feel they are at fault.

Well, without warning, Epcor did put restrictive services on the power. They do this by removing the current power meter and replacing it with one that only supplies around 15 amps of 110 volt service. Just enough for some simple basics, and using a stove is not possible at all because it requires 220 volts. The thing is, they did this while the family was not at home, and left no indications that they had done this.

When the family arrived home, a few items were turned on and "poof", the power died. And the panic started. Naturally Epcor was contacted and the explanation of how to "reset" this meter was not accurate. Attempts were made many times, and the power would not come back on.

Anyway, the twitter uproar over this was intense. So intense that the next day, Epcor did come out and put the normal meter back in, but the situation is still not resolved. I think the thing that bothers ME the most, was the nerve of Epcor to make a post on the situation. Personally I think it exceeded the bounds of privacy, and certainly made them look like they were not the ones at fault. And I'm not really impressed with the misrepresentation of disconnection without notice. They have been threatening this every few months and nothing was done. How was the family supposed to know this time would be any different? And why would Epcor refer to this as a "delinquent" account, implying that the family was not paying any of their bill.

Some explanations are in order to the family. How is it possible for that amount of consumption to be "recorded" when there were clearly never any leaks found. Why the constant refusals to discuss the matter other than "pay it and shut up". And why in winter? Can you imagine the trauma this 86 year old woman went through? One who is mobility and hearing challenged. One that could not even have any hot food until well beyond 10 pm, when the "limiter meter" was finally able to be reset. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't follow the incorrect instructions given by Epcor.

I think it's time for Epcor to stop being the bully, and sit down and actually make an honest attempt to solve this.


  1. By the way, I want to add in a huge shout out to CTV Edmonton for sending out a person to cover this. They had taken some documentation and facts, and were JUST in the process of starting to do a video recording for the news, when we were able to get the limiter re-set. They were the only Edmonton media that would come out THAT evening, and their dedication in wanting to help with this was simply outstanding.

  2. If you have never heard the other side of the story, then you do not know the whole story...

  3. It means her story may be self-serving and conveniently leaving out some facts. Only the two parties involved know for sure.

  4. This is another "Anonymous". The other "Anonymous" is absolutely correct. There is another side to this story. Don't believe everything that you read.

  5. Always two sides. However let me state, I was one of the many people called, and went to look at why this was happening. I am not a licensed plumber, but I do have extensive experience in high rise property maintenance. I also have my ticket.

    I can't tell you what the other side has said over the time, because I don't know. Other than the frustration of this "still going on". What was posted here were my words, my observations, my experiences. As seen first hand, for the parts I wrote about. You might counter back and go "yeah, just how do you know what Epcor said cuz you weren't there". A valid point. The answer would be, many of the phone conversations were recorded. And perhaps it's best left at that.

  6. Ugh, ugh and UGH! Bullies.

  7. EPCOR is famous for bullying. Until you've been in a position of being bullied by this company, it's easy to think there are two sides to the story. There aren't. By EPCOR's own admission, they family has been in a fight over this bill for a year. Furthermore, the family has done everything they could possibly due to find and rectify the problem while EPCOR did nothing but say "PAY THE BILL" for a year and did NOTHING to solve the issue or check to see if it were a metering problem.

    EPCOR also admitted that they ONLY reason they didn't shut off her power completely is that it's illegal to do so in subzero temps in this province. I worked for ATCO as the exec assistant to the vice president of the gas division and am well acquainted with the AEUB and the AUC as a result. I can confirm that restricting power is exactly as Gary has described and that if EPCOR could've legally cut off her power, they would've.

    The bill in dispute is a water bill. Yet EPCOR "restricts" the power to her home. Why? To bully and intimidate her into paying a bill they've done nothing to resolve an issue about it and made no effort to ascertain the problem, instead choosing to put the onus on the customer. The customer did everything they could to mitigate this problem.

    Finally, I was bullied by ATCO. We suspected that the company would demand access to our property to move their meter to the outside of our home and we contacted them over two years ago to tell them we would be landscaping our property and they should arrange the movement ASAP if they were going to do so. We never heard from them again & after two years of waiting we finally landscaped our yard, including a huge, paving stone patio that was laid a brick at a time.

    One WEEK after completion, they showed up and said they would be ripping up our brand new patio to move their meter but it would be our responsibility AND COST to have the patio AND THE LANDSCAPING fixed after they did the job. We said no. They threatened to cut off our power. We are STILL fighting them.

    We are still fighting them to this day.

    Great post, Gary. Thank you for exposing this. I hope you stay on this one.

    1. I have to say, so much is going on with the various utility folks... multiple lines of billing you can't make out, are designed to confuse the issues so they can hike up one part when another part doesn't bring in the dollars they want. Bypass regulations etc etc.

      ANYWAY, with respect to ATCO and moving the meter outside... they want to do that so they don't have to knock on the door to get the readings. I get that. BUT... they were here at our place just a short time ago, putting a remote reader on the meter they placed outside a few years back. So they can just walk or drive by places, and get the readings electronically. Tell them you are more than willing to allow them access to put a remote reader on. They are doing it. The water meter is the same.

  8. Does anyone know whatever happened with the Epcor billing dispute with the senior (CBC gave the name Stefania Kunicki on their web article)? Did they get their fraudulent bill reduced?
    And I'm wondering what the best thing to do would have been? I'd guess since the empty side of the house didn't need water they probably should have had the first plumber completely shut off the water (all buildings should have a main valve that's easy to turn off & on, there must be some building code about that)?

    FYI, anyone else notice their utility bills are now padded with "fees" and "charges" so they can double people's bills and still pretend to have cheaper prices for the actual utility? Every Gas bill I've seen lately says (for example a warm winter bill) "Cost of gas $50" "Amount Due $135". Same thing for the other utilities. The "Drainage stormwater" fee is particularly cunning, because it rains on your property you get charged a fee. Isn't that what property taxes used to be for, expenses related to property? Were utility companies charging people for storm drains 20 years ago, or in 1970, or 1950? And not the house sewer charge ("Drainage-Sanitary") or "Wastewater Treatment" charges that are separate and sound like more ways to increase the water bill without technically charging more for water...
    If they want to charge more for utilities they should just do it and face the music, but inventing new fees and charges and riders is juvenile, underhanded and dirty.

    1. I'm not sure what the status is, other than the next day full power was restored. And yes, the water was on it's own separate meter... I'm not sure most people would actually turn it off while not occupied but... what do I know. :)

      As for the billing line item issues, yes... Thanks to Ralph for selling out Alberta and it's resources, putting default billing into the hands of an American company.. and making those line items so confusing no one can tell what the hell is going on.

      Part of what kills me is this "tax" crap we have to pay to the City for the... right ??? of them using the land to provide the services. Mandel and crew have been screwing people over for years now, taking things that were covered by taxes and making them individual fees, upping the taxes and then have the nerve to say "look how low the increase was"... Think back to when garbage fees were a part of taxes, and then removed... and we had several months of being double dipped on what we had paid for taxes plus what we had to add in for the new garbage being on Epcor...

      I wonder when people will wake up and get their heads out of the sand.. or their asses... Sigh... Think people think!

  9. If you have never observed the other part of the tale, then you do not know the whole tale..