Lincolnshire woman clashes with North Shore Gas over $1,300 bill
Ellen Strauss of Lincolnshire received an inaccurate bill from North Shore Gas and filed a complaint with the state, getting her a refund. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun Times Media
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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:40AM
Ellen Strauss never paid much attention to the terms listed on the monthly billing statements mailed to her from the North Shore Gas Company.
She said she trusted the company had accurately calculated the amount of gas used at her new home on Half Day Road since the bill was placed in her name in November to her actual move-in in February.
Not until North Shore sent a revised bill for $1,329.59 on April 12 did Strauss start to question the company’s meter reading system.
“I called them up on [April 17] at 8:15 in the morning. First thing I asked was, ‘I really have to sit down with someone from your company to go over this bill because I do not understand it,’” Strauss said.
The confusion stemmed from an intentional overpayment of nearly $180 that Strauss made to North Shore for total past due bills from Nov. 29 through March 13. Strauss expected a credit to her account and a zero balance on her next bill.
Instead, North Shore sent out a revised bill for those months, in which most of the readings were estimated from the amount of gas used the previous year for that month.
“Nobody lived in this house all of December, all of January and three quarters of February,” she said.
Strauss said she kept the heat on 58 degrees for the months she wasn’t living in the new home.
“Estimated readings is a very big problem that we deal with,” said Jim Chilsen, spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board, an organization that has worked to change state regulations so utility meters are read every month.
“Technically, [North Shore] is supposed to come out every other month, but the rules specifically say that if the procedure of estimation is approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, they can estimate more than six times a year,” he said.
Strauss said North Shore sent someone to read her meter on Nov. 29, the day the bill was turned over to her name. The company said that another reading occurred on April 11, but Strauss was not home to grant access to her meter.
“I tell the woman, ‘unless they jumped the fence, they didn’t get back here,” said Strauss, who has a 6-foot gate enclosing her backyard and her gas meter.
Bonnie Johnson, spokeswoman for the North Gas Company, confirmed that gas use is estimated when employees do not have access to a customer’s meter. She said that if it were possible for the employee to read the meter, they would proceed to do so.
“If he’s not able to read it, he’s going to leave a note on that account that no one was home to let me in and sometimes they would leave a note saying please call us,” Johnson said.
Strauss did not find a note on her home. Her April 12 bill listed her current actual meter reading, indicating that North Shore physically read her meter.
“Current actual, they made that up because there were no current actual,” she said.
Strauss filed a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission April 17 over the situation. North Shore scheduled a reading for May 1 and sent a corrected bill to Strauss showing a negative $58.60 balance.
“She read my meter and of course it was substantially different than their pretend reading,” Strauss said.
North Shore installed a new, electronic meter in Strauss’ backyard on May 14, allowing North Shore to perform drive-by readings from outside the customer’s premises.
“They sent this corrected reading. There was no letter of apology,” she said.
The ICC confirmed in Strauss’ complaint there was an issue with the meter and that it has been replaced. North Shore sent the following statement via email:
“Ms. Strauss is a valued customer and we apologize for any inconvenience this matter may have caused her. We have applied an accurate and up-to-date meter reading and adjusted her bill to reflect the correct amount.”
The ICC reported eight complaints regarding billing for North Shore this year.