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Destroyed house will no longer receive utility bills

Alex Borg Caruana and his wife Marie Therese revisit their burnt home. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Alex Borg Caruana and his wife Marie Therese revisit their burnt home. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Tariff billing company ARMS will ensure no more invoices are sent to an elderly couple who received a €2,000 bill addressed to a St Julian’s residence destroyed in a fire two years ago.

On Wednesday The Times reported that the couple kept receiving utility bills even though the electricity cables outside the uninhabitable house had even been cut off by Enemalta as a security precaution.

Every time they received a bill with the estimated amount they had to pay, Alexander Borg Caruana, 83, went to the ARMS offices to explain there was no power at the house, and despite being told the company was aware of this, the bills kept coming.

An ARMS spokesman contacted by The Times said the company had traced the case and its customer care department was dealing with the couple directly.

“We’re going to make sure no bills are issued,” he said, adding that the company had nearly 300,000 customers and this was one case that had not been dealt with properly.

“It is an unfortunate situation, and when you [The Times] contacted us, we dealt with it immediately.”

The couple had been trying to draw the company’s attention to the increasing bills for more than two years.

The house caught fire in September 2010, following a short circuit on the lower floor and Mr Borg Caruana and his wife Marie Therese had to escape through their balcony because they were trapped in the bedroom.

The incident forced them to move out of the house they had lived in for 37 years because it was uninhabitable.

It was a “terrible experience” and the electricity bills they kept receiving every couple of months remind them of that “horrible disaster”.

Despite being told that the tariff billing company was aware of their case, and that the bills would stop, the couple last month received a warning to settle the overdue account, which if not paid within 10 days could see the company stopping the water and electricity service. An estimated bill of €2,045 followed.

Ms Borg Caruana this week confirmed ARMS had got in touch with them after speaking with The Times, but still questioned the increase in the bills when there was no one living in the house anymore.

Consumer Association president Benny Borg Bonello said this type of complaint was uncommon, and the association normally received more complaints about the delay of utility bills.

However, the case exposed the customer care’s insensitivity, following the trauma the couple had gone through.

“Customer service providers in the Maltese public sector are not aware that consumers expect an acknowledgment of their complaints.

“We tend not to give importance to the urgency of some complaints. This sets us back in the service industry, especially if local companies venture abroad.”

Referring to this case, Mr Borg Bonello said there was a lack of sensitivity towards the customers. The couple had gone through a trauma and the tendency was to treat them just like other customers, but considering the circumstances should have been given special attention.

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