I-Team: CFA turns up heat on botched budget billing

I-Team: CFA turns up heat on botched budget billing

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ATLANTA -

It's a lesson in budget billing, a popular option for paying a utility bill. I-Team's Dana Fowle looked into the story of a woman whose utility bill became so confusing that event the utility company had trouble figuring it out.

The scenario: an elderly woman, a fixed income, budget billing and suddenly a $600 utility bill.  How did that happen? Well, Call for Action stepped in and sorted out a very messy billing situation.

The price of gas has gone up and for people on a fixed income, like Willy Cox, the rise and fall of prices can be a cause of worry. The 78-year-old woman opted for her utility company's budget billing option.    

How does it work? Let's say last year you paid $1,200 for gas. Budget billing takes last year's total and spreads it evenly over the upcoming year, so your bills are more predictable. In this case, during the next 12 months you would expect to pay $100 a month.

Your bill stays consistent unless gas prices spike.  Or, you use more gas than you did the previous year.  In that case, you would pay the difference in December.  It can be a few bucks.  Or, you can be like the Cox's and get a $683 bill.

Janice Cox said, "I was told that she got to pay that $683 before they can put her back on the budget plan. My words to them were that she's not going to pay it."

Here's why.  For months on end her bill clearly said "DO NOT SEND ANY PAYMENT." Credits appeared all over her bill again and again. But, in reality, the elderly woman's bill was mounting because for months she hadn't paid.  Then, with no previous warning that she was behind now on her utility bill, she got a cut off notice.  

Janice Cox said, "And I felt they should have sent some sort of correspondent saying continue even though your statements say not to pay, you still should be paying your bill."

Communication broke down so the Cox family called FOX 5 Atlanta's Call for Action -- the Fox 5 consumer negotiating team -- and got this $683 bill sorted out.  There was a mistake.  The utility company's billing was out of whack.  So they cleared Willy Cox's tab.  All of it.  

Janice Cox said, "All fees was being waived."

There are two take-aways here: The utility company tells the I-Team it's reviewing its budget billing procedures.  They are - admittedly - confusing.  And, if anything about your bills seems odd - both the company and the consumer in this case agree ask questions.

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