One Phone Call May Solve Your Dispute with a Utility Company
Simply by dialing 1-800-292-9555, any customer can reach the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) Complaint and Inquiry Intake Center, a service that helps utility customers informally resolve disputes with telecommunications, gas and electric companies. The MPSC is the administrative agency charged with regulating much of the utility industry in the state, and its Complaint and Inquiry Intake Center will connect the customer to one of its regulations officers. Regulations officers are a dedicated staff of about a dozen individuals who are trained to work with utilities to fairly resolve all types of disputes.
Each regulations officer is a specialist, concentrating on issues involving either telecommunications companies or gas/electric companies, and assuming that the customer has already attempted to work out the dispute with the utility, these friendly MPSC employees are available to help. Of course, regulations officers cannot assist customers with every dispute with every type of utility. For example, municipally owned utilities and cell phone companies are outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the MPSC; therefore, regulations officers have little ability to help resolve disputes involving these entities. Still, with one toll-free phone call, the customer can explore this option based on the specific nature of the complaint.
The manner in which the regulations officer handles the customer’s complaint usually depends on whether the customer is a business or residential customer, and the type of utility involved. However, the regulations officer will generally begin by contacting the utility to investigate the customer’s complaint and to attempt to find a solution. The person that the regulations officer contacts is usually someone in the company with more authority to settle the matter than the person with whom the customer has talked before; and with a little luck, the dispute can be quickly resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
In cases involving residential customers of gas or electric utilities, the informal dispute resolution process has an additional step. Following the regulations officer’s attempts to settle the matter, a residential customer may request an informal hearing. The utility will then notify the customer of the date and time of the hearing, as well as its location, which is usually one of the company’s local offices. The hearing will be conducted before an impartial hearing officer, and the utility covers the cost. If the customer is dissatisfied with the result of the informal hearing, he or she may contact the MPSC, where the regulations officer will review the hearing officer’s opinion and determine if the matter was correctly decided. Further communications with the customer and the utility may be necessary, and, again, the goal of the regulations officer will be to ensure that the customer’s complaint is adequately addressed and that the dispute is fairly resolved.
Certainly, however, not all disputes are easily settled. Sometimes these informal procedures will fail, and the customer will choose to proceed with a formal hearing at the MPSC before an administrative law judge. Other times the issues involved will be more complicated or the amount in dispute more substantial. Under such circumstances, it is advisable to contact an attorney who specializes in this type of litigation. Nevertheless, after attempting to resolve a dispute directly with the utility company, the next best step may be to call the Complaint and Inquiry Intake Center. The MPSC regulations officers who assist customers have considerable knowledge of the utility industry, and their expertise can help business and residential customers achieve a more level playing field when resolving utility disputes.
| ||Ryan Kauffman, Esq. is an associate with the law firm Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, PC, and practices in the utility law practice group, which represents business customers in |
disputes with utilities. Special thanks go to the regulations officers at the MPSC, especially Debbie Hopkins, for providing the information necessary to write this article.