South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Range of improvements afforded to PWSA customers; tenant customers can now apply directly for PWSA Customer Assistance Programs

 


On April 1, 2018, because of a new state law, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) began regulation of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority's (PWSA) customer service, operations, and rate-making activities. As part of the law, PWSA was required to file a compliance plan to bring its existing information technology, accounting, billing, collections and other operating systems and procedures into compliance with Commission regulations.

The PUC's oversight of PWSA brings a variety of benefits to our customers, including balancing the needs of consumers and utilities, ensuring safe and reliable utility services at reasonable rates, and protecting the public interest.

On July 14, 2022, the PUC approved stage two of PWSA's proposed compliance plan, which covers topics related to PWSA's customer service and collections processes. It affords a broad range of improvements and consumer protections to our customers, particularly tenants, low-income ratepayers, and those who are victims of domestic violence or who hold a protection from abuse (PFA) order. In addition to setting out a game plan for the authority to come into compliance with all PUC regulatory requirements, the plan achieves additional consumer protections on a number of topics that are in the public interest, thanks to the collaborative approach of stakeholders and regulatory entities in concert with PWSA.

"Our Commission-approved compliance plan is a testament to the collaborative efforts of PWSA, various PUC bureaus, including the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, the Offices of Consumer Advocate and Small Business Advocate, and community advocacy groups, all working together to enhance our customer experience," says Julie Mechling, PWSA director of Customer Service. "We want every one of our customers to fully understand their rights and protections and the services available to them, especially when such rights are improved and expanded, as is the case today."

"The approval of the compliance plan expands customer access to our robust assistance programs, regardless of whether they own or rent their home," said Will Pickering, PWSA chief executive officer. "This plan also marks a key milestone in PWSA's evolution, bringing us that much closer to full compliance with all PUC regulations. While we still have some work to do on this front, I'm proud of the result of this plan, which I'm confident will allow PWSA to equitably deliver essential water services to all of our customers."

Tenant customers will now be eligible to apply for PWSA's Customer Assistance Programs, which provide financial relief for income-qualified residential customers who are having trouble paying their water, wastewater, and stormwater charges. 

PWSA is confident that streamlining access to our Customer Assistance Programs in this way will bolster enrollment, as customers can now more easily apply. PWSA's goal is to have every customer who is eligible enrolled in a Customer Assistance Program, and we encourage anyone who is having trouble paying their bill to visit our Customer Assistance Program website or call PGH2O Cares at 412-255-2457.

The compliance plan includes new rights afforded to tenants who are individually metered and responsible for paying their PWSA bill as defined by a lease or rental agreement with their landlord or property owner. Currently, PWSA has identified 7,664 accounts where a tenant is listed on the account and is receiving the monthly bill in their name.

Under the new compliance plan, PWSA will no longer require that property owners approve tenants as customers. When tenants are able to become customers, they will be notified that property owners receive copies of bills and notices related to the account, and that they will be able to opt-out of this shared notification in the near future. A Tenant Welcome Letter, which includes an explanation of a tenant's rights and responsibilities, will be mailed to tenant customers in the future.

Please note that tenants are not required to become PWSA customers and may continue to pay their bill through the property owner. If you are a tenant responsible for paying your PWSA bill and would like to learn more about these new protections, please contact PWSA Customer Service by calling 412-255-2423 and choose option #5.

If an applicant or customer provides PWSA with a copy of a PFA or court order that contains clear evidence of domestic violence, PWSA will not send bills or account notices to anyone other than the customer. The customer will also be eligible to apply for our Customer Assistance Programs. In the future, we will be implementing a process to identify victims of domestic violence at the time an applicant is seeking service.

Moving forward, PWSA will release a written collections plan that better defines our procedures related to collections. This includes benchmarking other utilities regarding their best collections practices, researching potential credit scoring, and exploring the possible use of a third-party collection agency. Taken together, this background will allow PWSA to identify the actions that can be taken to improve the collections processes and best serve customers.

 

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