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Better bills for Ontario consumers

A new electricity bill provides clear information and encourages conservation

Abstract

There’s a common perception out there that much of what government does — from providing services to administering programs to enacting laws — is mired in red tape. Yet government has a real and tangible impact on people’s lives. It affects everything from schools to health care to pensions to public services, and it’s a relationship that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But how can government open the lines of communication and strengthen its relationship with the average citizen?

For Ontario residents at least, the answer is in the mail. A couple of years ago, the provincial government recognized a need to reduce some of the confusion that consumers face when they open their monthly electricity bill. Late in 2004, the provincial Ministry of Energy released a new format for a simplified bill based on recommendations from a team of Deloitte consultants. The end result will be a standard bill for every Ontarian from Thunder Bay to Timmins to Cornwall. Instead of overwhelming consumers with technical jargon, the new bill, to be implemented in the next year, will clarify exactly what consumers are paying for. 

“The bills before were very confusing to people,” says Sal Badali, a manager with Deloitte's  consulting practice who led the discussions with various stakeholders. “Across the province, electrical utilities, known as local distribution companies, used 48 different names for electricity,” Sal explains. In some cases, the bills had as many as 50 lines of information, recalls Jane Allen, who worked as an advisor on the project. Little wonder consumers were bewildered. “They all had different formats, and they all included different things on the bill,” says Jane, who leads the  utilities practice in Canada.

Talking to Ontarians In December 2002, the provincial energy minister asked Deloitte to recommend how the electricity bill could be simplified and standardized. The first step for Deloitte’s team was to examine the format of existing bills. Sal and Jane, joined by a small team that included Rouhan Coutinho, studied the bills of just under 100 distribution companies across the province.

Next, they met with local distributors and electricity associations, and asked them what information should be included in the new format. After consulting with various stakeholders, Deloitte’s team recommended that a more customer-friendly bill be transparent about electricity charges, provide clear information and enable consumers to compare prices among local distributors. Deloitte also recommended that the number of items listed under “electricity charges” be reduced to four lines — a recommendation the government has adopted.

But keeping it simple was just part of Deloitte’s mandate. The Ministry of Energy also wanted a bill that would provide residents with useful information to help them manage their electricity consumption. “People should have a chart that shows them their energy usage,” says Sal. By enabling consumers to track their consumption, the new bill encourages them to conserve energy and ultimately lower their bills.

Making a difference With this new bill format, all stakeholders — the provincial government, Ontario residents and the utilities that provide their power — stand to benefit. It’s a win–win–win. The Ontario government will be recognized for taking active steps to improve its communication with taxpayers. Ontario residents benefit because they will be better able to understand what they’re paying for, plus they will be armed with information to help reduce their monthly bills. And local electricity distributors will be able to better manage their customer relations.

The chance to have a positive impact on the everyday lives — and pocketbooks — of average Ontarians made this an important assignment for Sal. “It’s a project that allows us to make a difference in people’s lives,” he says. And once consumers begin receiving the newly formatted bill, he believes they’ll have a useful tool to save on their electricity costs.

Now that Deloitte’s recommendations have been implemented, the province has given electricity providers a year to bring their bills in line with the new format. Although the new bill is not yet in the hands of the public in every community, Jane is confident it will be well-received, as it has been with other groups involved. “The stakeholders are very pleased the government is doing something to make the bill simpler,” she says.

By drawing on its knowledge of utilities, its ability to facilitate stakeholder discussions and its understanding of public policy, Deloitte was able to facilitate a positive result for all. “We can help governments address the needs of their constituents,” says Sal. “Whether it’s in energy conservation, or in health and education, we can help ensure that government delivers its services more effectively and efficiently.”

 
Do you need to strengthen your relationship with constituents and other stakeholders?

Examine your existing communications strategy

Consult with all relevant stakeholders and consider their input

Provide a clear communications strategy based on best practices

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