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Retail Supplier Agrees To Add Questions To Its TPVs Under Settlement With PUC Staff

Corrective Measures Also Address Ensuring Sale Prospect Is Authorized To Enroll Utility Account

August 30, 2022

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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National Gas & Electric, LLC (NG&E or the Company) would pay $15,250 under a settlement with the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) of the Pennsylvania PUC to resolve alleged instances of overbilling and slamming

Additionally, under the settlement, National Gas & Electric would take various corrective measures, including several related to TPV questions, and several related to the individual authorized to enroll an account with the supplier

National Gas & Electric provided the following statement concerning the matter

"National Gas & Electric, LLC appreciates the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in reaching a settlement with NG&E. This settlement addresses concerns raised by a small number of customers who were enrolled by NG&E’s third party telemarketing vendors. In addition to these affected customers, NG&E has also voluntarily provided refunds to many more customers who were impacted by high energy prices. NG&E always looks for ways to provide better customer service and value."

--- Statement from National Gas & Electric

I&E's investigation of National Gas & Electric had been prompted by the referral, from the PUC's Commission's Office of Competitive Market Oversight, of six (6) informal complaints made by NG&E's customers regarding possible overcharges or unauthorized enrollments.

During the course of I&E's inquiry, NG&E reported that it received approximately fifty-one (51) informal complaints from 2017-2019.

The settlement states, "In its responses to I&E's Data Requests, the Company admitted to overbilling fifteen (15) customers and invalidly enrolling one (1) customer but reported that such customers had been refunded."

The settlement states, "NG&E alleged that the remaining thirty-five (35) complaints were unfounded, but that the Company issued courtesy refunds to those customers who submitted complaints."

Based upon TPV recordings produced by NG&E, I&E alleged that NG&E and/or its third-party vendor engaged in, "six (6) unauthorized customer enrollments, four (4) instances of deceptive marketing and sales practices, two (2) instances of an unauthorized person acting on behalf of a customer, and five (5) instances where the verification process was not separated from the transaction process." These alleged violations occurred from September 13, 2019 through September 16, 2019, the settlement states

Among the corrective actions under the settlement, NG&E shall add the following questions to all TPVs, whether via live agent or an interactive voice response system:

1. "Do you understand that NG&E is not your electric utility?"

2. "Do you understand that you are not required to switch to NG&E in order to continue receiving electric service?"

3. "Does your name appear on the electric bill?"

Under the settlement, "NG&E and its agents will commit to complying with 52 Pa. Code § 57.175 and shall not enter into a sales agreement or change the commodity provider for any consumer that is not personally accepted by the EDC Customer of Record or by a person purporting to be authorized to act on behalf of the Customer of Record."

"If the consumer answers that his/her name does not appear on the electric bill, NG&E and its agents shall first request that the consumer produce the person whose name appears on the electric bill to verify authorization to switch. If the customer of record is not available, NG&E and its agents shall then request that the consumer verify that he or she is authorized by the person whose name is on the bill to consent to changes in electric generation service for the account. If the consumer cannot verify such authorization, the sales solicitation and TPV must immediately end," the settlement provides

Additionally, the settlement provides, "As part of the quality assurance process, NG&E and its agents shall be instructed to reject an enrollment, even if it had cleared TPV, if the customer sounded uncertain, confused, or suspicious in any way."

The settlement's civil penalty of $15,250 reflects the following:

1. A civil penalty of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) for each of the six (6) alleged unauthorized customer enrollments, totaling Six Thousand Dollars ($6,000);

2. A civil penalty of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) for each of the four (4) alleged instances of deceptive marketing and sales practices, totaling Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000);

3. A civil penalty of Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($750) for each of the two (2) alleged instances of an unauthorized person acting on behalf of a customer, totaling One Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($1,500); and

4. A civil penalty of Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($750) for each of the five (5) alleged instances where the verification process was not separated from the transaction process, totaling Three Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($3,750).

Additionally, the settlement provides that, for each customer identified in I&E's informal investigation that was invalidly enrolled with NG&E, the Company will provide a refund equal to that customer's first two (2) months of EGS charges pursuant to 52 Pa. Code§ 57.177(b).

In a statement in support of the settlement filed as part of the settlement filing package, National Gas & Electric stated, "While the Commission recognizes that the actions that resulted in the violations detailed above were the actions of a third party vendor of NG&E, as the licensed entity privileged to engage in the retail energy business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, NG&E acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the actions of our employees, agents, contractors, and vendors See 52 Pa. Code § 54.43(f)."

"In addition to acknowledging responsibility for the actions of its vendor, NG&E would also emphasize that, as further mitigating circumstances, NG&E provided I&E with records, correspondence, and other documentation responsive to I&E's requests; identified policies and procedures with respect to its marketing and sales practices in which NG&E could enhance consumer protection; and has otherwise fully cooperated with I&E throughout the investigation and settlement process," NG&E said in the statement of support

"Furthermore, NG&E would point that it has taken strong corrective action by implementing revisions to its training and operating procedures for not only its own employees, but by ensuring that the Company practices and procedures are adopted and uniformly observed by its contractors and third party vendors. NG&E and I&E both assert that this corrective action will act as safeguards against future instances of unauthorized customer enrollments, deceptive marketing and sales practices, unauthorized person(s) acting on behalf of a customer and initiating the verification process before finalizing the transaction process," NG&E said in the statement of support

The settlement remains subject to PUC approval

Docket M-2022-2633098


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