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New York Governor Announces New York State Returned Nearly $9.7 Million to Consumers in 2023

In honor of National Consumer Protection Week, Governor Kathy Hochul … announced that the Office of Consumer Services at the New York State Department of Public Service — the staff arm of the Public Service Commission — and the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection assisted 276,000 New York households with a variety of consumer protection matters, returning nearly $9.7 million to consumers in 2023.

The Public Service Commission conducted nearly 25,000 investigations, resulting in the Department returning nearly $7 million to consumers. The Division of Consumer Protection handled 26,137 consumer complaints and inquiries returning nearly $2.7 million to consumers. This year, National Consumer Protection Week runs from March 3 to March 9.

“We are putting money back in the pockets of hard-working New Yorkers who have been victims of a scam or overcharged by their utilities,” Governor Hochul said. “My administration has made a tremendous effort to respond to thousands of complaints and return millions of dollars to New York households. We will continue working to protect consumers and hold dishonest businesses accountable.”

The Department of Public Service’s Office of Consumer Services monitors the number and types of complaints received against all utilities operating in New York State to ensure that utilities fulfill their obligation to provide effective customer service in compliance with the laws, rules, regulations and policies. Each month, the Office of Consumer Services makes public a detailed overview of complaint activity and utility responsiveness that is informative to both consumers and utility companies.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection’s mission is to assist, protect, educate, and represent consumers in an ever-changing economy. The Division of Consumer Protection works hard to assist individuals aggrieved in the marketplace through its complaint mediation efforts, along with educating the public on marketplace scams, and advocating consumers’ interest before legislative and regulatory bodies.

Top Five Categories of Consumer Complaints the Division of Consumer Protection Received in 2023:

  • Refunds/Store Policy: Complaints related to refunds and store policies, including return policies, restocking fees, and refunds for damaged goods.
  • Orders/Deliveries: Complaints related to the order and delivery of goods purchased, including missing items, incorrect items received, late or delayed delivery or items never shipped.
  • Merchandise/Product: Complaints related to merchandise or products that did not meet consumers’ expectations.
  • Credit Cards: Complaints related to erroneous charges, billing, card benefits and illegal surcharges.
  • Home Improvement: Complaints related to home improvement, repair services and contractors.

For example, a consumer in Columbia County purchased a set of new kitchen appliances for over $5,000, but immediately after installation, the oven would not work properly. After multiple repair attempts, the consumer was still having issues with the appliances, so she contacted the retailer to return them for a refund. The retailer first refused to take them back and said they would only replace them for new units, but the consumer was not willing to do that. Then the retailer said they would take them back, but they would have to apply a restocking fee since the appliances were now used. The consumer then contacted DCP for assistance. DCP contacted the appliance retailer and through mediation was able to arrange for a full refund for the consumer.

Additionally, a consumer in Staten Island purchased kitchen cabinets totaling over $13,000 from a large retailer that showed signed of being defective. The cabinet manufacturer inspected them and said they would submit an order for replacements. After a year and numerous unanswered phone calls, the consumer had received only two replacement doors. DCP contacted the retailer and manufacturer, and soon after, the full set of cabinets were replaced.

The Federal Trade Commission leads several public events during National Consumer Protection Week that promote consumer protection awareness. All events are free to join and can be found here.

PSC Chair Rory M. Christian said, “The PSC and Department remain laser focused on resolving utility complaints for the State’s consumers and ensuring utilities comply with consumer protection regulations. This focus enables us to promote our historic mission and activities on behalf of the public interest and helps ensure that utilities provide refunds to consumers when the utilities make a mistake.”

Secretary Robert J. Rodriguez said, “Our top priority is to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices, defective products and dangerous goods and services. The Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is proud to help individuals by educating them on how to protect themselves from scammers and by providing businesses with guidance on the laws to create a fair marketplace for all New Yorkers.”

The Department of Public Service’s Office of Consumer Services also monitors complaints against the competitive energy service companies (ESCOs) operating in New York, and against distributed energy resources (DERs), a crucial element of the State’s transition to clean energy. In terms of added consumer protections, the Department also began regulating energy brokers in 2023, and is continually tasked with ensuring regulated entities meet or exceed rules and regulations regarding providing customer service.

In addition to its ongoing Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. billing investigation, the Department expanded its investigation into New York State Electric & Gas Corp. (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. (RG&E) regarding potential mismanagement of their utilities’ billing systems and protocols.

As part of the investigation, the Department’s Consumer Advocate hosted a series of public forums in affected areas in January and February 2023 to hear consumer concerns first-hand. The problems with the NYSEG and RG&E billing systems became apparent when the Department began to see a significant spike in the number of complaints from customers.

As a direct result of the unprecedented numbers of consumer complaints, Department staff commenced a review and an investigation related to a change to the companies’ customer information and billing system. The complaints received by the Department range from incorrect bills being sent to consumers, extremely late bills being sent, multiple conflicting bills being sent, or difficulties billing renewable energy customers.

In 2023, the number of consumer complaints against Central Hudson, NYSEG and RG&E soared to more than 1742, 4260 and 2293 complaints, respectively; four times more than the number of complaints received in 2021 and 14 percent more than 2022.

In February, the PSC adopted a $200 million New York State energy bill credit to be administered by the electric and gas utilities, which is funded in the 2023-2024 Budget to offset increases in energy commodity prices, requests by the utilities for delivery rate increases, and pressures on affordability generally. The energy bill credit is a one-time credit that will provide energy bill relief to more than seven million electric and gas utility customers.

As part of its consumer assistance education programs, the Department provides consumers with comprehensive, clear educational materials and guidance to assist them in reducing their energy bills, preparing for winter and summer’s extreme cold and heat, and learning and exercising their rights under New York’s nation-leading utility consumer protection laws, the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA). Department staff also informs, educates and empowers consumers through live outreach presentations statewide, rich consumer education resources, and timely social media consumer information campaigns.

To file consumer complaints against a utility or to receive more consumer services information, go to dps.ny.gov/complaints or call the Department’s helpline at 800-342-3377, Monday through Friday, 8:30am – 4:00pm. You may contact the Department in writing at the NYS Dept. of Public Service Office of Consumer Services, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. Consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection at dos.ny.gov/file-consumer-complaint.

Source: NY.govMidtown Tribune news
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