By Orville Williams
With less than a week to go until the Antigua Public Utilities Authority’s (APUA) disconnection waiver comes to an end, customers across the island are scrambling to get their accounts in order.
The company announced last week that the nine-month waiver of disconnections, as part of its Covid-19 relief efforts, would end on January 31. This means utility services for both residential and commercial customers will be liable for disconnections starting February 1.
APUA spokeswoman Sharifa George told Observer yesterday that the announcement almost immediately prompted action from customers.
“It’s definitely started a buzz [and] definitely got persons mobilised,” she said. “We’ve noticed that there’s been an increase in customer traffic, persons have been frequenting the Credit Control Department and persons have also been making payments.
“The payments we have been receiving recently have varied; some are simply down payments or installments and there are also persons who are just bringing their accounts up to date with a lump sum. So, we’re seeing a variety in terms of the types of payments and the response has definitely been consistent,” George explained.
During the pandemic last year, APUA’s relief efforts included payment plans, discounts on electricity bills – as much as 25 percent at one point – and, perhaps the most welcomed, a temporary suspension of disconnections on all its utility services.
George further told Observer that APUA has not yet arrived at a specific figure for the amount of people that benefited from the disconnection waiver over the last several months. What APUA did have – but wouldn’t disclose – was the overall sum that had previously been outstanding and how much that figure increased since the implementation of the Covid-19 relief efforts.
“I can say with certainty that there are persons who have definitely enjoyed those benefits and there are persons who continue to do so because they would have established arrangements with a payment plan.
“We noticed a trickle-off early last year when the utility relief efforts were implemented and it continued to trickle off up until recently, when the announcement was made,” George said.
Meanwhile, persons who continue to deal with the financial impact of the pandemic, but are at least able to make payments, can negotiate further arrangements.
“What that person will have to do currently is make a down payment to bring down the outstanding amount – just about 50 percent – and they would also have to come in with a photo ID.
“If it is that this person is not the account holder, they would have to bring a letter … saying they take full responsibility for liquidating the outstanding amount and also a note from the landlord, saying they acknowledge that this is the full responsibility of the tenant.
“Further to that, they will make their payment and over the course of maybe three to six months, they would liquidate the rest.”
While persons are making these installments, they will receive regular monthly bills for their continued utility service. In this regard, APUA is encouraging these customers to practice conservation methods, as monthly bills will have to be kept at a manageable amount, with the simultaneous installment payments.
For persons who are experiencing the brunt of the financial fallout with no income whatsoever, George says these situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis and escalated accordingly.
While residential customers are now coming out in greater numbers to settle their accounts, George explained that commercial customers were more consistent with keeping payments up to date during the pandemic last year.
As far as how many persons are on the disconnection list, George added that figure remains fluid, with persons still coming in to settle their accounts and establish payment arrangements. They are hopeful though, that the figure will continue to decrease by the end of the week.
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