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Meralco stops collecting ‘convenience fee,’ sets refund

MANILA, Philippines — Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) has stopped charging the P47 “convenience fee” and assured customers that it would refund the amount it had been collecting during the billing periods covered by the COVID-19 quarantine, company officials said on Wednesday.

The fee is charged to customers who settle their bills through Meralco’s own online payment platform despite persistent consumer complaints about the unusually high bills they had incurred under quarantine.

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In a hearing on Wednesday called by the Senate committee on energy, Meralco president Ray Espinosa said the company would now shoulder the convenience fee for online payments made during the ongoing general community quarantine (GCQ) in its franchise areas.

Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga told the Inquirer the company stopped collecting the fee from customers who used the Meralco Online platform—both the web-based and mobile app versions—last Monday.

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The fee would be refunded to customers by way of deducting the amount from the customers’ future bills, Meralco explained.

Quarantine billing

The fee was collected for the billing period covered by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and the GCQ, or from March 16 to July 6.

As of March 31, Meralco Online had more than 719,000 active accounts, but only about 26,000 had opted for paperless billing subscriptions.

Responding to a user’s criticism of the P47 fee, Meralco said in a February comment on Twitter that this was set by its “card networks (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, etc.) and it’s payment partner PayMaya, to follow online payment Asia Pacific standards.” PayMaya, like Meralco, is part of the MVP group of companies.

While Meralco’s native platform charges the fee, customers don’t have to pay it if they do it online with their banks.

Many customers, however, had to resort to Meralco Online especially during ECQ as online banking transactions could not process reference numbers of overdue bills.

Espinosa also reiterated that Meralco customers would be charged only for electricity that they actually consumed.

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Apology

“(T)here is no intention on the part of Meralco to charge a customer and have that customer pay more than the actual consumption registered in the meter,” Espinosa said.

He apologized, however, for the company’s “shortcomings … as far as the May bills are concerned … (which) has really caused confusion because of estimates.”

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the committee, was not appeased and urged the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to penalize Meralco and other distribution utilities that failed to comply with the regulator’s advisories and directives.

Their failure to follow ERC advisories intended to alleviate the financial difficulties of consumers during the quarantine measures caused the “bill shock,” Gatchalian said.

Meralco’s violations included not clearly including the word “estimate” on the bill, and failure to provide line item for monthly installment, he said.

ERC Chair Agnes Devanadera said the regulator was set to issue an order to Meralco regarding the refund to customers, but also noted that the company had already made a commitment to do so.

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TAGS: electric bill, ERC, Meralco convenience fee, Sherwin Gatchalian
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