As part of a 2018 settlement, Eversource residential customers cannot be charged a fee for paying a bill by credit card — but you wouldn’t know it, based on misleading warnings on the company’s website.
When an Eversource electric customer checks their bill online, they’re met with a prompt letting them know that Eversource provides options to pay: adding their bank account information to the online portal, or setting up autopay or pay-by-text. The site also warns customers they can pay by credit card, but that a “fee applies.”
In fact, Eversource agreed to stop charging residential electric customers a credit card processing fee as a part of its rate case in 2018.
United Illuminating, the other major regulated electric utility in Connecticut, can still charge fees for customers using credit and debit cards, according to PURA.
The website’s claim that a “fee applies” could warn customers away from using the option, former State Sen. Len Suzio said in a complaint to the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, outlining the misleading language.
Suzio said the language amounts to Eversource “steering customers away” from the free payment option they agreed to provide, and urged PURA to penalize the company.
“Although [Eversource] appears to not charge consumers who do use credit cards as required by the settlement agreements, the company’s false and deceptive advertising on its website undoubtedly discourages customers from taking advantage of this option,” Suzio said. “So, what good is it to have a fee-free credit payment option if the Company is misleading people into believing they will be charged a fee?”
After CT Examiner brought the issue to the attention of Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross, he said the company would change the language from “fee applies” to “fees may apply.”
“We work hard to ensure our customers receive the most accurate information available and we appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Mr. Suzio is correct, Connecticut residential customers are not charged a fee when paying with a credit or debit card,” Gross said. “The web page to make card payments is used by customers in all three states we serve – Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire – and fees do apply to commercial customers and to Massachusetts residential customers paying in this manner.”
Suzio told CT Examiner that the language “fees may apply” could still make Connecticut residential customers think that they would be charged a fee for using a credit or debit card. He said at first, he was willing to give Eversource the benefit of the doubt that it was an oversight in a large corporation, but continuing to use misleading language shows they are knowingly discouraging customers from using cards to pay.
“They don’t want [customers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire] to know that Connecticut customers won’t be charged, because you know it’s going to lead to clamoring for the same thing in the other states,” Suzio said.
Eversource agreed to implement the “fee-free” program for its residential and customers in 2018, as a part of a settlement agreement that ended its rate case that year. The company stopped charging the fees at the end of March 2019
According to the company’s filings with PURA, it processed 812,206 credit and debit card payments in 2020, costing the energy provider a total of $1.15 million – with Eversource paying $1.40 per transaction for most of the year, and $1.48 after September. According to the settlement agreement, those costs are now spread among all residential customers.
Before the fee-free program, Eversource reported that customers used credit or debit cards to pay $882,814 for 365,388 transactions in 2016, and $907,463 for 403,317 transactions in 2017. Customers paid a fee of $2.50 per transaction through September 2016, and $2.25 after that – about a dollar more per transaction than Eversource said it paid in 2019.
Editor’s note: This story corrects data for transaction fees