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Pakistan’s electricity providers ‘overcharging’ millions of consumers

National Electric Power Regulatory Authority decides to initiate legal action against power providing companies

December 04, 2023
Workers seen on an electric pole in Islamabad, on October 26, 2023. — APP
Workers seen on an electric pole in Islamabad, on October 26, 2023. — APP

ISLAMABAD: The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) has found that millions of consumers were overcharged during the months of July and August, prompting the body to initiate legal action against K-Electric (KE) and other power-providing companies, Geo News reported Monday.

“Legal proceedings against all Distribution Companies including KEL under NEPRA Fine Regulations, 2021 for violation of the provisions of NEPRA Act, CSM and tariff terms & conditions etc,” a statement issued by the power regulator said.

The top authority took “very serious” notice of the complaints that were reported from all over Pakistan regarding excessive, inflated, and wrong bills charged by the distribution companies to the consumers during two months — July and August.

Following the complaints, the power regulator held detailed hearings during which it found that snaps of “meter readings are either invisible or deliberately not taken. Similarly, some cases were reported that monthly meter readings are being taken beyond the billing cycle of 30 days, which resulted in undue/inflated charging of upper slab bills to the less user consumer(s) hence, changing the category from protected to un-protected”.

The authority also found out that numerous distribution companies were charging meter readings, whereby, snaps “readings differ from the readings recorded on the consumers’ bills”.

The authority then constituted a committee to probe into the matter of excessive billing issues.

The committee found that 5.7 million Multan Electric Power Company (Mepco) consumers were charged for more than 30 days of the billing cycle in the month of July followed by Gujranwala Electric Power Company (Gepco) i.e., around 1.2 million in August.

Similarly, Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco) i.e., more than 800,000 in August, Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) around 700,000 in both months, and Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) more than 500,000 in the month of July.

This resulted in the change of slab from lower to higher, change of status from protected to un-protected, and change of status from life-line to non-life line for thousands of consumers.

“It is further noted with grave concern that during the months of July and [...] August, thousands of consumers were served electricity bills having invalid snaps, in which MEPCO, LESCO, QESCO, and SEPCO are major contributors,” the statement mentioned.

As per the notified tariff terms and conditions, the billing period means a billing month of 30 days or less reckoned from the date of the last meter reading.

However, the above findings showed that billing cycles carried out by different DISCOs range from 30 days to 40 days and in some instances, even more.

The authority said it is “alarmingly noted” that thousands of consumers were charged for more than 40 days of billing.

This was the major cause of overbilling during July and August. In this regard, MEPCO followed by GEPCO, FESCO, LESCO, and HESCO, are the DISCOs who have heavily done such overbilling. Overall, all DISCOs are responsible for such an unjustified exercise, it said.

According to laws, the defective meters are required to be replaced immediately however, in case of non-availability the meters are required to be replaced within two billing cycles.

It is evident from the findings, the statement said, that due to the non-replacement of defective meters, thousands of consumers were charged on an average basis for more than two months — and even in a large number of cases one year to three years and even above three years.

“The respective DISCOs did not bother to replace the defective meters even after three years,” the statement mentioned.

“Foregoing in view, it is concluded that distribution companies are charging excessive bills/detection bills to the consumers by adopting illegal & unlawful practices, therefore, prima facie, are in violation of NEPRA Act, Consumer Service Manual, Terms & Conditions of Tariff and other applicable documents, etc.”

Nepra also directed Discos to initiate proceedings against officials concerned for violation of provisions of the Consumer Service Manual and other applicable documents as per their service rules on account of carrying out such illegal practices and submit a compliance report within 30 days.

KE responds

In a statement, Karachi Electric (KE) said that according to Nepra’s inquiry report, KE is the only company using handheld devices for meter reading, which effectively ensures transparency in the meter reading and billing process.

“The report also found that KE's monthly billing cycles follow the regulator's guidelines and has observed no lapse from the company in this regard,” the statement mentioned.

The inquiry report, the statement said, also shows that no customers were found to have been fleeced by a change of slab or deprived of their protected or lifeline status due to an error by KE in meter reading.

“The company remains engaged with NEPRA to share information and discuss any other points raised by the authority,” the company added.