What are your rights when the lights go out?
No one likes it when another monthly bill arrives, and as the summer months draw nearer we can all expect our electricity bills to become increasingly eye-watering — and fertile ground for complaints. How does the Saudi Electricity Co. handle inquiries and complaints, what are the rights of electricity consumers, and what compensation is available if complaints are upheld or those rights are breached?
These rights and standards regulate the relationship between the Saudi Electricity Co. and its customers, which must be adhered to in order to ensure the quality of the service provided, and its timely implementation. They guarantee the minimum level of service to be supplied by the company, and the levels of compensation to be paid in the event of non-compliance.
When a customer has been disconnected from the electricity supply for non-payment of a bill, and the customer then pays the required amount, or reaches an agreement with the service provider to arrange payment and meets all the requirements imposed by the service provider, then power must be restored within three hours in urban areas and five hours in semi-urban and rural areas. If it is not, the customer is entitled to compensation of SR75, plus a further SR75 for every three hours without electricity.
The company is obliged to deal with billing complaints immediately. If further investigation is required, a detailed response must be provided to the customer within 15 business days. If it is not, the customer is entitled to compensation of SR75, plus a further SR75 for every 15 days without resolution of the complaint.
If the Saudi Electricity Co. is unable to supply electricity to a customer, the power must be restored within 24 hours of the time the service provider was informed (or could reasonably be expected to know) about the outage. If it is not, the customer is entitled to compensation of SR75 for each continuous 12-hour period without power. Non-residential customers are entitled to compensation of SR150, plus a further SR75 for each additional 12 hours of disconnection.
There are exceptions to these customer rights — for example, if the electrical failure is caused by events beyond administrative control. However, the limits of these exceptions are not defined, and no examples are cited, which makes the exceptions vague and ambiguous.
In the case of repeated power outages — more than four times in one year, each of which exceeds four hours — the customer has the right to file a complaint of breach of the guaranteed minimum standard. In this event, customers are entitled to compensation of SR200, but only once per calendar year, and again there are vague and ambiguous exceptions.
The positive aspect of all this is the manner in which the company handles complaints through its various channels, which include its consumer app Alkahraba, its direct service centers, its website and its social media presence on Twitter and Facebook.
As for customers’ expectations of the company, it is thought to be planning significant updates to take into consideration high bills, especially in the summer season. It is also keeping up to date with technical developments such as small-scale solar photovoltaic systems, which have recently been launched.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers.