In recent years, it has become common practice that there is no hot water in the taps in summer. However, people are regularly charged for it in utility bills. Sometimes they are charged even when consumers have local apartment meters. If you consider the fact that penalties for unpaid services started to add up since June 10 of this year (in accordance with the new law “On housing and communal services”), non-existent debts also grow at the expense of a penalty fee. Opinion decided to figure out how to deal with it.

Almost all Ukrainians deal with fake debts in their utility bills. For electricity, gas or hot water. Either way, the sums to pay are big. And this happens even when the service itself is not provided. It is easiest to trace it with hot water, which you can only dream of in the summer if you do not have a boiler. For example, the people of Kyiv suffered from unfair charges last year when housing and communal services referred to the failure of the program: they said, the contractor of services “Kyivenergo” was changed to “Kyivteploenergo”, and such things happen as long as the system is being adjusted.

The successor company has been operating for more than a year – since May 2018. It would seem, they had enough time to work out the system, and to supply hot water to people, not lukewarm, in which one couldn’t normally wash a plate without chemicals. And the people of Kyiv continue to complain: they say, there is no water in the summer, and they have their own meters in the apartments, and the supplier charges them for the service that is not provided at average rates.

Will the debt be written off after checking the meter?

“I always pay my utility bills on time,” Iryna Surmylo from Kyiv told Opinion. “When it comes to darn expensive hot water, it’s a weird story, for the water in the house is barely warm.

More than a year and a half ago some neighbors from the top floors from my house weren’t careful with the renovation – and since then there is no hot water in the whole riser. Even when there is hot water in the city. And even when there is hot water (although not as hot as it is desirable) in my house. In the first decade of last month, a worker from “Kyivteploenergo” came to check the indices of the meter. He came, looked, noted. Both how much is actually consumed, and how much is paid for (and there is an overpayment). And the fact that I have a boiler, which I use all the time. He said: “Your meter has to be verified already”. I answered: “If it has to – I will do it”. And away he went…

After some time, I received a utility bill, and as much as 2000 UAH of non-existent debt in it. How?! I kept passing indices like a parrot, repeating that there was no hot water. I’m calling the center for receiving indices. And I was hit in the head: your meter is removed from the balance sheet.

“Why the hell is it?” I ask.

“You have it since 2015, it is necessary to verify it,” the woman on the other end explains.

“I have already called the verification service,” I answer, “but in any case, I have a question: how could hot water be charged according to the general norms when there is no hot water in the city at all?!”

The woman on the other side of the wire was silent for a moment, and then said: “yes, perhaps your Housing Office didn’t inform us that there is no hot water in your house!”

“Why would they inform you about it when the whole city is left without it?” I ask, outraged.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be!” my interlocutor put a big full stop in our conversation.”

Of course, it didn’t end there.

“The meter is already verified,” Iryna Surmylo continues. “It appeared to be fully functional.

I ask the master: “Do the indices on my meter remain valid?”

He says: “Yes”.

“And will “Kyivteploenergo” write off the debt that appeared out of thin air?”

The master smiled, paused a little and said: “We have a common base, that is, they will see that you have a verified meter and what your indices are, but they will write off the debt drawn by them?..” And he went to verify the meters of my neighbors, and now I think to myself: “And what should I do to make “Kyivteploenergo” admit their own mistake with the debt – and recalculate it?”

As soon as a debt appears – communicate with the supplier

It turns out that the story that the woman told is not unique. “I had a similar experienced in April of this year,” Tetiana Hamlii from Kyiv informed, “and I went everywhere: to the district Centre for Municipal Service (CMS), and directly to “Kyivteploenergo” – but my non-existent debt of more than 3500 UAH is still there from the time is magically arose.”

Tetiana Tysarenko from Kyiv adds that she has such a trouble since December of last year: she provided all the necessary documents to the CMS, submitted several applications to the management of the supplier company, and all was in vain – as they charged her for 18 cubic meters per month, they keep charging her for the same amount, although she uses no more than one cubic meter, and only when there is hot water, there usually isn’t.

But Hanna Krukovska’s mother was lucky. “It took a long time for my mother to deal with such debt, it was the whole sag,” Hanna says about her problem. “To cut the long story short, the sequence of actions in the capital is this: in the event of receiving a utility bill with the numbers that are not true, you need to contact your nearest Center for Municipal Services. Their address, mode of operation and other information can be specified on their website. There is a live queue, with numbers, so you have to be patient. You need to go to the CMS with a package of documents: paper acts of meters verification, their passports, and receipts confirming payments, your passport and identification code. At first, we tried to eliminate the debt on the spot, but sometimes the system does not let information in for some reason despite all the available indices. Then you need to apply for a review of the debt. But it also will not disappear instantly – it will take at least 2-3 months for the company to get around your papers”.

Hanna Merykova, who also happened to face a similar situation, advises to parallelly write complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the State Service of Ukraine on Food Safety and Consumer Protection. And men speak even more categorically: to perform verification (when with the help of a special device they find out whether the meter works correctly), then cross-check indices (you need to apply to the CMS for this – and the representatives of the service provider should come) and go to court. By the way, in Housing Offices people are advised not to pay such debts, but to prove their right.

When asked how people should act if they receive hot water bills with untrue numbers, the manager of the “Law Office of Nataliia Hnatush” Nataliia Hnatush explains Opinion that usually standard charges (that is, a certain number of cubic meters of water per person) are applied when the consumer didn’t report the availability of the meter or the meter wasn’t verified. Since November 2017, when the Law of Ukraine “On commercial accounting of heat and water supply” came into force, the consumer is obliged to carry out the verification at his own expense.

“What are the possible options here? To force the service provider to write off a non-existent debt,” the lawyer explains, “it is necessary to start active communication with the service provider as soon as the bill with wrong indices comes. In Kyiv, you need to go to the communal enterprise “Kyivteploenergo”. That is, to contact them with a request regarding the number of charges and clarify what these amounts are based on. This should be the starting point from which to proceed. The main thing is not to let the problem take its course, because in this case your debt, even a false one, will only grow.”

Returning self-filled bills

Utilities say the main reason for incorrect charges is a late submission of meter indices. As noted in the Sviatoshyn CMS district of Kyiv, if a person doesn’t pass the meter readings in due time, the indices are put according to the norm, the house, the average figures – it depends on the situation, and then consumers declare that they are charged with non-existent debts.

They say that in order to avoid such problems, it is enough to pass the indices in due time. This can be done in several ways, but people get the impression that some suppliers consider them, while others ignore. For example, if you do spend an hour of your time to get through to the Center of Municipal Service and pass your indicators to the operator, they will appear in your bills, but if you write them in a special column in the payment notification (bill) “For the next month charging”, the suppliers do not pay attention to it and then say that “the bank in which you paid your bills didn’t inform us”. The options with personal accounts, “Viber” and “Telegram”, through which you can also transmit indicators, are still not suitable for everyone: although smartphones do become ubiquitous, the older generation is still not friends with them. And it is not a cheap pleasure. Therefore, people are outraged and really want to return the self-filled bills, eliminating the need to spend a lot of time every month to get through to the providers of these services.

Especially now that there is a penalty in addition to the actual body of the “debt”. It was introduced by the new Law of Ukraine “On housing and communal services”, which came into force in May this year. The Ukrainians need to know a small but important nuance: the law provides that the penalty will be charged only for those debts that appear after the date of entry of this law into force, that is, after May 1, 2019. Experts note that there is a risk of not quite honest actions of supplier companies that might carry out the procedure of fixing the debt – and calculate the penalty for all previous non-payments.

According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, most of the population has debts for natural gas. At the end of June, the total debt here was 24,8 billion UAH. The debt for heating and hot water supply is second – 15.9 billion UAH. The biggest debts are recorded in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. Next comes the debt for the maintenance of houses and structures and local areas (4.8 billion UAH), for the centralized supply of cold water and drainage (3,9 billion UAH), for the removal of household waste (0.7 billion UAH) and for the supply of electricity (5.2 billion UAH).

No one is able to tell which part of those debts is real and which is fake. There is no hot water in most of the cities in the warmer time of the year. And the supplier companies keep charging for the consumed cubic meters “taken out of thin air”. And if a person didn’t manage to perform the meter verification in due time, as in the case of Iryna Surmylo, “Teploenergo” automatically start to charge in accordance with the standard consumption, removing the meter from the account. It is easy to solve the problem: to verify the meter and to cross-check the indicators, but it is with their check-up that the supplier companies have the biggest problem with. Not even the cross-checking itself, but the correct account of the results.

Devices for remote indices reading are a way out of the situation

“If your meter failed the verification, then charges for water – both hot and cold – according to the average standards are quite legitimate,” Oleksandr Serhiienko, the director of the Analytical and Research Center “City Institute”, clarifies in a comment for Opinion. “But there is no problem with the meter, all these games do not look honest towards consumers. All the more, the ways of passing the data made quite a leap forward, that it has already become archaic to do this on the phone. Now you can put a special device on any counter – a chip, and the chip will be passing the meter indices to this database itself. Therefore, the task of “Kyivteploenergo”, and Teploenergo of other cities, and the Ministry of Regional Development, the Verkhovna Rada, and the government as a whole – is to transfer all consumers to remote meter reading. From a technical point of view, it is easy.”

According to Oleksandr Serhiienko, the cost of installing such devices is relatively small. “This method has been used for a long time abroad, and there is no problem with the reading of indices,” the expert explains. “And there can be two options: either installing new meters with the built-in chips or to equip old meters with chips. Where there is a will, there is a way”

At the same time, the director of City Institute notes that the problem with fake debts and with a shortage of hot water in summer lies not in the plane of incorrect indices reading or counting system failures.

“If we talk about Kyiv, where networks losses reach 20%,” Oleksandr Serhiienko explains, “since 2006 we were only patching pipes, but there was no systematic plan of the heating systems replacement. And though 2 years ago the Kyiv authorities initiated the replacement of pipes, this process is a long and, as they say, expensive pleasure. Therefore, in winter, when there is heating and the population has big charges, supplying hot water is profitable, and in summer its cost is three times bigger, and that’s why there is no hot water in this period: supplying a heat carrier in summer is simply economically unprofitable.”

But in any case, until there is a complete modernization of the network, the Ukrainians shouldn’t hope for quality service, and therefore for the correct charges in their utility bills.

Larysa Vyshsynska

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