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Meralco shoulders nearly P13 million in online fees

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MANILA ELECTRIC CO. (Meralco) has shouldered P12.6 million in convenience fees which its partner payment platform provider charges utility customers in settling their bills through its mobile application, the company told the Department of Energy (DoE).

In a letter dated July 14, Meralco apprised Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi of the company’s compliance with various commitments to legislators and government regulators on resolving customers’ bill shock during the past billing months.

It was in May that the distribution utility giant vowed to cover the P47 convenience fees charged through the Meralco app after the department flagged complaints about the additional tariffs.

Specifically, nearly P13 million of these charges from 268,000 online transactions were credited back to customers. The online fees are remitted to its affiliate company PayMaya Philippines, Inc., which manages its app’s payment gateway.

During the Senate Energy Committee hearing on July 6, Meralco pledged to continue waiving the said fees from its app while its service areas are under lockdown. Currently, Metro Manila, its largest service area, is placed under general community quarantine until end-July.

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RESOLVING COMMUNICATION
When the controversy on higher bills blew up in May, Meralco officials met with the Energy chief who advised them to issue new billings based on customers’ actual consumption and disregard the previous bills, which were estimated.

“We met again in June to discuss their implementation plan, and at that time, I underscored the importance of properly and clearly communicating with their consumers. Meralco informed us then that they will be issuing advisories explaining the May and June billings through letters, social media posts, and print media notices,” Mr. Cusi said.

Senators have prodded Meralco to clarify to each customer how it came up with their May bills and whether these were based on estimates or actual meter reading. It then pledged to issue clarificatory letters immediately.

According to Meralco President and CEO Ray C. Espinosa, the company started delivering the said letters to about 4.1 million customers on July 10. The deliveries will be completed by July 16.

Moreover, the power distributor also promised to pay back customers who have fully paid their quarantine arrears but who intend to pay these in monthly installments, as provided by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Meanwhile, it told the DoE that it had put up “virtual agents” at their payment centers whom customers can discuss with their billing concerns. It also increased its manpower that will engage customers about their complaints through their social media accounts.

“We welcome Meralco’s assurance that they have been acting upon the various issues being raised by consumers,” Mr. Cusi said.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT, Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Adam J. Ang

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