DOE orders Meralco to explain P47 fee for paying bills online

The Department of Energy (DOE) ordered the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to explain why it is charging a convenience fee of P47 for consumers who opt to pay electricity bills on its website and app.

"Parang hindi po naging convenience ito, parang naging pabigat sa bulsa (It doesn't sound like a convenience, but more of a burden for consumers)," said Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi in a video sent to reporters on Tuesday, May 19.

Meralco earlier encouraged consumers to pay bills via online platforms to avoid crowding in payment centers amid the coronavirus pandemic. (READ: FALSE: Bills for March and April 2020 now free – Meralco)

In a message to Rappler, Meralco said the P47 does not go to Meralco's coffers, but to its payment partners.

But the DOE said Meralco still should have obtained approval from the government for this scheme.

"Apparently, your offices are justifying that you do not need to go through the government because this fee collection does not go to Meralco – that it goes to your app service provider," said Cusi in a letter to Meralco.

Meralco also said customers can pay through other payment channels like e-wallets and banks that do not have the P47 convenience fee, but admitted that these can have "issues on their end" and payments may not push through.

Several consumers have pointed out, however, that they were able to pay other bills without any issues on these other channels, except for their Meralco bill.

Computation sought

Meanwhile, the DOE, as well as the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), also asked Meralco to explain how it computed recent bills, as consumers reported bill shocks.

Meralco earlier said some March and all April bills were estimated based on consumers' 3-month average daily consumption, which follows the rules issued by the ERC. 

But Cusi pointed out that "an average cannot be higher than the highest consumption in the previous months."

For May bills, Meralco earlier said these are already based on actual readings, which may explain the increase.

"The May bill is a result of the actual kWh (kilowatt hour) consumption from the current meter reading, with adjustments already reflected from the previous estimated consumption. This total, which is already based on the true and actual readings, is what customers actually see in the May bill. That is why you may notice a rise in the total amount due," the company said.

Several legislators of the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives are calling for a probe into the sudden jump in electricity bills.

For other payment concerns during the lockdown period, Meralco customers can visit this link– Rappler.com