The Department of Water and Power will suspend collections on most unpaid bills through the remainder of 2013 because of problems with the utility's new billing software, DWP General Manager Ron Nichols said Wednesday.
The DWP will not take customers to collections or disconnect their service while the kinks are still being worked out in a multimillion-dollar system, which has led to inflated bills and lengthy wait times when customers call to complain.
"It is 'billings-gate' that's happened," said Councilman Mitch Englander, who introduced a motion asking for a moratorium on going after delinquent accounts while the new system is being implemented. "
"We've heard and learned of nightmare stories ... these are families. These are seniors on fixed incomes that are scared to death."
The DWP's general manager told the city council about 5 percent of customers -- 70,000 people -- have been impacted by the billing problems. When those customers call the DWP for help, some are being left on hold for as long as 40 to 50 minutes. To address that, the DWP has implemented a virtual hold, which will call customers back so that they do not have to remain on hold, Nichols said.
Customers who were already in the collections process or who have a chronic history of being delinquent could continue to face penalties.