Maynilad, Manila Water told to explain ‘alarming number’ of bill complaints

Published July 29, 2020, 7:38 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Manila Water Company, Inc. (MWCI) and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. (MWSI) both have until Friday to explain the “alarming number” of complaints raised against them by their respective customers over surge in water bills over the past month.

A statement showed that the Regulatory Office (RO) of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) has issued show-cause orders or notice to explain to Manila Water and Maynilad over the customers’ complaints.

MWSS-RO said that it has so far received about 400 billing complaints from the concessionaires’ customers since June.

It also said that it has observed that the concessionaires have violated certain measures that MWSS-RO put in place in June to make sure that Manila Water and Maynilad customers will get a fair bill, especially now that there’s a pandemic.

Meter reading and billing activities were suspended during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified Enhance Community Quarantine (MECQ).

During this period, the average billing policy was applied.

Prior to the resumption of the concessionaires’ read-and-bill operations the previous month, MWSS RO installed various measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the financial situation of customers, as well as prevent the potential bill shock that may be experienced once customers receive their water bills.

“As evidenced by the surge of billing complaints monitored and investigated by the agency, both concessionaires have been ordered to explain their non-compliance to [our] agreed directives,” MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty said.

One of the MWSS RO directives that Manila Water and Maynilad allegedly failed to observe is to verify the consumption patterns of customers, check for irregularities, and automatically withhold any Statement of Account (SOA) with observed significant deviation from these patterns for further investigation and necessary adjustment.

We have to observe due process and hear the side of Maynilad and Manila Water regarding the observed noncompliance with our directives,” Ty said in a text exchange.

“However, we would like to assure the public that if there are any violations of our directives that aim to protect consumer welfare, we will not hesitate to impose the appropriate sanctions,” he added.

When asked if it will be a financial or legal penalty, Ty said “it depends and we need to bring our recommendations to the board as well.”

Sought for comments, Manila Water said that based on its own data gathered from June 1 to July 27, 2020, out of its one million customers, only 7 percent or 73,588 sought clarification on their billing.

Of these, Manila Water said 90 percent were already resolved by its call center or business area frontliners and that only 0.7 percent of customers, or 7,937, have cases that were endorsed for further handling. Of these, 6,246 were verified to have been billed based on actual consumption of customers.

Meanwhile, there are 379 cases wherein the spike in billing was caused by undetected underground leak in the customers’ plumbing system, while only 57 customers had their bills adjusted.

“We take all our customers’ concerns seriously and have always strived to respond and resolve these above and beyond regulatory standards,” Manila Water said.

Maynilad, on the other hand, said it “actively implemented measures to avoid confusion among customers on how water consumption during the ECQ period will be computed.”

“Likewise, our field personnel withheld the issuance of water bills that deviated from usual consumption patterns so we can investigate and verify bill accuracy before it reaches customers,” the company said.

“These interventions helped, given the minimal number of bill-related inquiries and concerns raised – only 1.33 percent of 1.46 million accounts. Rest assured that we are looking into each complaint and reaching out to customers to resolve any remaining issues. On the show cause order, we will comply and explain to the MWSS RO,” it added.