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Regulator's Staff Propose That Retail Supplier's License Be Suspended, All Customers Returned To Default Service Due To Alleged Enrollment Violations

August 6, 2021

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The Office of Education, Outreach, and Enforcement (hereafter, "Staff") of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has newly moved for PURA to issue a Notice of Violation and Assessment of Civil Penalty against Liberty Power Holdings, LLC, which would require Liberty to return all of its Connecticut customers to default service

Staff alleged that it has reason to believe Liberty violated Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 16-245(c), 16-245s, 16-245o, and the Marketing Standards.

Staff said that, under normal circumstances, it would seek the assessment of a civil penalty for every incorrect third party verification (discussed below), "but Liberty has filed for bankruptcy and according to the filing would be unlikely to pay any civil penalty assessed."

"As a result, and solely because of the bankruptcy proceeding, [Staff proposes to] forego a civil penalty in the instant proceeding and craft its penalty to better protect the customers harmed by Liberty’s actions," Staff said

Staff proposes that an immediate suspension of Liberty’s license for five years is an appropriate penalty, "for Liberty’s continued disregard for Connecticut customers and Connecticut marketing laws."

Staff proposes that PURA not permit Liberty to serve customers while its license is suspended

Staff proposes that, within ten days of PURA issuing the proposed Notice of Violation (NOV), Liberty must return all of its customers to standard service. To the extent an NOV is ultimately issued, Liberty would have a right to a hearing on the matter

Staff proposed that, if, after the five-year suspension, Liberty wishes to return to the Connecticut market, it must reapply to the Authority and receive permission before marketing to or serving Connecticut customers.

Staff proposes restitution to customers who were enrolled under non-compliant TPVs, as Staff said that such customers were not validly enrolled on a contract with Liberty. This would apply to all customers enrolled through a TPV conducted by a specific vendor since August 6, 2020.

Staff proposed that Liberty must refund to such customers the difference between the rate the customer paid while being served by Liberty and the standard service rate during that time.

Staff alleged, "In short, all of Liberty’s TPVs reviewed by the [Staff] followed the same pattern in which the TPV agent told the customer the account holder name, address, account number, and name key, the marketing agent failed to leave the TPV, and the TPV agent failed to read the specific questions required of them by the Marketing Standards Decision."

Staff alleged, "The [Staff] examined all of the TPVs from one random day plus TPVs associated with complaints from Liberty customers. No TPV reviewed was correct. In fact, every TPV sounded exactly the same, which coincides with the fact that TPV companies work off scripts. As a result, the [Staff] has reason to believe all of Liberty’s TPVs were performed incorrectly."

Staff said that, in prior orders, PURA has indicated that during third party verifications, PURA requires the customer to state their name, account number, address and phone number themselves, rather than the TPV agent stating it to the customer and the customer confirming, because, "requiring the customer to provide her name and account number attempts to ensure it is the customer, and not someone posing as the customer, completing the TPV."

Staff alleged that in recordings submitted by Liberty during an investigation, the TPV agent reads the customer’s name key, address, and phone number to the customer. Staff alleged that in many of the TPVs the TPV agent tells the customer not to say anything as he reads the information to the customer. Staff alleged that it has reason to believe that this violates the Marketing Standards and Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-245s.

Staff alleged, "The TPV agent also first states the customer’s name, spells it, and then asks the person on the call for their name."

Staff alleged that it has reason to believe that this violates the Marketing Standards and Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-245s. "The Marketing Standards state that the customer on the call must state their name, but telling the person on the call the name of the customer on the account (and spelling it in case they had difficulty understanding) simply provides the person on the call with sufficient information to engage in slamming. Moreover, since Liberty violates the law by providing the caller with the account number, name key, and address associated with the account, there is nothing the caller provides other than their name that offers any identification. Providing a name immediately after being told the customer’s name, and without having to provide any other identifying information, violates the very purpose of ensuring 'it is the customer, and not someone posing as the customer, completing the TPV.' Decision at p. 10," Staff alleged

Staff said that the Marketing Standards also require the TPV to "confirm the agent left the call." Staff alleged that it has reason to believe that Liberty’s TPVs do not confirm this.

Staff alleged, "In at least one TPV, the marketing agent can be heard rejoining the call twice when the customer was unable to complete the TPV, instructing the customer how to complete the TPV, and sending the customer to two other TPVs."

Staff said that, pursuant to the Marketing Standards the TPV should not continue if the customer has a question. Staff alleged an instance where a customer asks, "I still will get the UI, right? I’m all mixed up," and the TPV agent attempts to answer the customer’s question and explain, "You will remain a customer of your utility. The only change being made is that on the supplier portion of your bill it will be Liberty Power."

Staff alleged that it has reason to believe Liberty’s TPVs do not follow the Marketing Standards, which require a TPV to "confirm that the customer understands the contract with supplier will renew automatically and it could renew at a rate different from the rate at which the customer currently is signing up," and require the TPV agent to state, "Are you aware that by authorizing this transaction, you confirm that you are entering into a contract with [Electric Supplier], which changes your electric generation service to [Electric Supplier]."

Staff alleged, "Throughout the TPVs the [Staff] did not hear the TPV agent explain that the contract could be renewed with a different rate and the [Staff] did not hear the direct quote above."

Staff also alleged that it has reason to believe Liberty has not properly monitored and/or audited its marketing to ensure its TPVs did not violate the Marketing Standards, as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-245o(h)(1).

"Had Liberty listened to even one of the TPVs conducted on its behalf, it should have known the TPVs did not follow the Marketing Standards’ requirements," Staff alleged

Docket 06-12-07RE09

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