Problem Solver: ComEd meter mix-up leads to supercharged bill
By Jon Yates, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO, Tuesday, February 21, 2012 — At first it sounded like a happy mistake.

When Megan Hackl called ComEd to close her account, the representative told her there was a slight problem. The meter on her Yorkville condo had been switched with her neighbor's, but she was told to not worry — it appeared the error was in her favor.

Initially, Hackl was told ComEd owed her a credit of more than $800, she said.

A couple of weeks later, however, she received a bill for $557.42. Confused, she called ComEd again.

Hackl was told she had been paying for her neighbor's usage, but her own usage was much higher. And the news got even worse.

The representative told her the bill she received didn't include everything she owed. After ComEd crunched the numbers, it decided she owed a wee bit more — $1,659.92, covering the period from May 2010 until mid-January.
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Hackl was floored. She tried to argue that she shouldn't have to pay for ComEd's mistake. After all, she had paid all her bills in full and on time. It wasn't her fault ComEd had incorrectly billed her.

After her initial anger settled, she came to the realization that because she had used the electricity, she would pay for it.

Problem was, she didn't have $1,659.92 lying around. She asked if she could work out a payment plan, but was told that because she had closed her account she was not eligible.

"When I asked what I should do then, since they were not willing to work out payments and I do not have that money to pay this bill ... they said I had a 30-day grace period and then it would go to a collections department in ComEd," Hackl said.

Worried her credit would be damaged because of ComEd's mistake, Hackl emailed What's Your Problem?

"If it's electricity we used, I'm willing to pay it," she said. "I obviously can't pay it all at once."

Hackl said paying in a lump sum was unrealistic.

"I couldn't believe they wouldn't even give me a payment plan," she said. "I was like, 'Listen, guy, you have to know what it's like to be an average, everyday person, especially in this economy.' He said he understood but there was nothing he could do."

The Problem Solver called ComEd spokeswoman Alicia Zatkowski, who promised to look into the situation. Several days later, Zatkowski emailed to say the situation had been resolved.

Under Illinois Commerce Commission rules, ComEd is only allowed to back-bill a residential customer for one year of service. Because ComEd had back-billed Hackl for close to 20 months, the utility agreed to lop off the first 8 months.

That reduced Hackl's bill from $1,659.92 to $1,262.22, Zatkowski said.

Illinois Commerce Commission rules also allow customers the same amount of time to repay old charges as it took for them to accrue. In other words, if ComEd is back-billing Hackl for one year of service, she is supposed to have one year to repay those bills.

But Hackl had closed her account, and the account for her new house was under her husband's name. Under those circumstances, she was not eligible for a deferred payment plan because she is no longer considered an active customer, Zatkowski said.

"However, we have extended her due date to ease any financial burden this may cause," Zatkowski said.

Hackl said a ComEd representative told her the utility would not put her account into collections or contact the credit bureaus as long as she paid off her balance within the next nine months.

"She was actually very polite and helpful," Hackl said. "What a difference compared to the last guy I spoke to at ComEd."

With the total reduced and more time to pay it off, she said she will have no problem paying for her previous usage.

"I now can pay this bill over time and not take a hit on my credit, and furthermore not be stressed out about this issue and the interaction with ComEd," she said.