non-payment of disputed bill

In this article, Apoorav Arya put forth the legal steps one can take if they are served a notice of non-payment of a disputed bill.

Non-payment of disputed bill

Despite not making much telephone calls, is your telephone bill sky high? Were you out of town and still, electricity bill is touching the sky? Having issues with your credit card bills? Are, the service providers overcharging you? What to do when you are overcharged for your telephone, electricity, water or any other bill. Here is a detailed solution to such problem of non-payment of dipsuted bill.

Matters relating non-payment of disputed bill will be covered under the provisions of Consumer Protection Act, as a bill amounts to either purchasing of some goods or availing of services. Therefore, one can approach the consumer forum in such cases. A detailed procedure of proceeding in Consumer forum followed with case study on nonpayment of disputed telephone and electricity bill.

Approaching the Consumer Court on non-payment of disputed bill

Step1 Approaching the right court

  • Electricity’ being one of the services covered under the CPA, the consumer has power to file complaint against any kind of deficiency in service on the part of Electricity Board.
  • There are two ways of deciding which court to appear.
  • First is the place where the service was obtained or the territorial jurisdiction. Deciding on the basis of area where the services was availed is not the sole criteria for deciding the court.
  • On the basis of cost of service is the second criteria. If the cost of service availed is upto 20 lakhs, one will have to approach District consumer forum, or, if the price of the good bought is above 20 lakh but below 1 crore then State consumer forum, and, if the price of the good bought is above one crore the National consumer forum.
  • The two criteria have to be kept along together for deciding which court one has to appear.

Step 2: Drafting of Consumer complaint.

For this purpose one should consult a lawyer as it would be more effective rather than drafting on your own. Here are few key points which must be in your draft complaint:

Introduction: Introducing yourself in 2-3 lines.

Transaction: Detail of service availed, electricity bill number, other such details.

Defect: In this complain about the deficiency in the services, in the above cases, deficiency of services arising out of excessive bill.

Rectification: In this complainant should rectify what steps were taken by him to redress the matter before approaching the court. Example could be, approaching the electricity  board several time, informing them about the defects over phone and letters, etc.

Jurisdiction: Here is where a lawyer will come handy. If complaint is made to court with no jurisdiction over the matter, complaint will outrightly get rejected.

Relief claimed: It is here all the relief which one wants as a compensation should be mentioned. An example could be, settlement on disputed electric bill. Along with this, one should always demand for litigation expenses incurred while fighting the matter in the court as a relief.

Step3 Payment of court fee

If one is approaching district forum, the court fee is INR 100 (upto 1 lakh rupees), 1-5 lakh INR 200, 5-10 lakh INR 400, 10-20 lakh INR 500. When matter concerned with is above 20 lakh then matter will be with state commission, for matters between 20-50 lakh INR 2000, 50 lakh- 1 crore INR 4000 and matters above 1 crore is dealt by National consumer forum and the court fee in such cases is INR 5000.

Step4 Arguing the case 

One can argue the case on their own or may hire a lawyer. If one is arguing on their own, here are few points to be kept in mind-

Dress code → Person arguing must not necessarily be in lawyer’s attire. Decent formal dressing will suffice the situation.

Copies of complaint → three set of copies if the matter is in District forum or State forum and four set of copies if the matter is in National forum.

What will be the complainant called in the court A complainant will be referred to as Consumer Complaint (C.C.) and

After result → Free certified copy will be given to the litigants.

Within how many days should a complaint be filed in the consumer forum?

The complaint must be filed within two years from the date of receipt services availed. If the limitation time has exceeded then an additional time might be granted on providing with sufficient reason which will be subject to the understanding of the court.

What to do If you get a notice of non- payment of disputed telephone bill?

Regional offices of Telecom Regulatory Authority, are filled with such complaints. The dimensions of the problem can be calculated from the fact that the problem of excess billing even had its echo in the Parliament of the country. On 31st March, 1987 there was a complaint in the Parliament that even the Members of Parliament were subject to excess billing. It was alleged that when they were out of station their phone bills in Delhi went up.

The problem of excess billing, its causes and the remedy available to a subscriber who is a victim of such excess billing.

In general excess billing complaints arise from telephone having STD facility. They arise because of-

  • The subscriber, his family, friends and employees having used STD and not being conscious of the extent to which they used it, or
  • A fault in the metering circuit, or some transient fault in the system, and
  • Possible deliberate mischief by other subscribers in league with staff of telephone department.

What to do when the telephone bill is unreasonably high

  1. First things first, file a complaint at the telephone office.
  2. Immediately on receipt of complaint regarding excess charge for local calls where the calls are found to exceed the highest one obtaining during the six preceding quarters by more than 100% at STD stations, the officer concerned is required to defer enforcement of recovery of the amount of the disputed bill till investigation of the complaint is completed, and a decision as to whether some rebate for the excess charge is justified or not, is taken.

Cancellation of disputed bill.(SPLIT BILL) There is also provision for cancellation of the disputed bill and preparation of two bills–

  1. One to include charges which are correctly payable by the subscriber including local calls, local call charge being computed to be equal to the average number of calls metered during the six bi-monthly periods (one year) immediately preceding the disputed periods plus 10% over the average.
  2. Another bill may be prepared for the balance and marked as “part local call bill (disputed)”. Though the subscriber is required to pay the first bill within 7 days, the officers have been directed not to insist on the payment of the second bill till final decision is taken on the complaint lodged by a subscriber after making proper investigation on the lines indicated in the Manual and in the circular.

Then onus of proving that bills are not exorbitantly high is on the telephone service provider. The meter can record exorbitantly high number of calls even without the subscriber making any such calls due to technical fault.

When can a subscriber be called a defaulter? Whether telephone connection can be disconnected for alleged non-payment of a bill?

The power of disconnection of telephone is a very drastic power and it should not be exercised lightly. It should not be forgotten that telephone service is one of the most essential services today and disconnection thereof may put a citizen to extreme hardship and inconvenience and cause irreparable harm and injury. It may have far-reaching ramifications on his day to day living as well as on his means of livelihood.

  1. Before exercising the drastic power of disconnection of telephone the authority concerned must ensure that the bill and / or notice is served on a subscriber and the period of 15 days has expired and the subscriber has failed to make the payment within such period.
  2. On being satisfied, then as per the rules, it has to give a notice to the subscriber about the alleged nonpayment and the proposed disconnection thereby giving opportunity to put forward his case, if any, against proposed action.
  3. Defaulter may be informed by any of the two modes of notices. One is telephonic notice and other is notice by registered post.

What to do when findings of the Telecom service provider still sounds unreasonable to you?

In such cases, one can approach the court. The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), adjudicate disputes and dispose of appeals with a view to protect the interests of service providers and consumers of the telecom sector and to promote and ensure orderly growth of the telecom sector.

What to do If you get a notice of non-payment of disputed electricity bill?

In these following cases, electricity service provider might disconnect an electric connection-

  1. Where any person neglects to pay any charge for electricity or any sum other related charge for electricity due from him to generating company the generating company may, after giving not less than fifteen clear days’ notice in writing, to such person and without prejudice to his rights to recover such charge or other sum by suit, cut off the supply of electricity and for that purpose cut or disconnect any electric supply line.
  2. Where it comes to notice of electricity service provider that, theft of electricity is being carried anywhere, they have the authority to disconnect such connections which are established by means of theft. Further, the service provider might lodge a complaint in writing relating to the commission of such offence in police station having jurisdiction within twenty four hour from the time of such disconnection.

There are situations where electricity bills are exhorbitantly high. Situations where homes are locked for months but still bill is excessively high is often.

The problem of excess billing, its causes and the remedy available to a subscriber who is a victim of such excess billing.

Before taking any legal step, assure these things

  • Improper or old wiring
  • Old appliances, especially with heating elements like Water Geysers, Irons, Electric Stoves etc.
  • Theft of Electricity
  • Incorrect reading by the BEST
  • Faulty meter or Meter display broken
  • Mistake by BEST in processing the bill
  • Past outstanding bills accumulating
  • Revised tariff

These are prime reason for outstanding high electric bill.

Legal steps to be taken when someone gets a notice over a disputed electric bill

Step1 Before starting anything, one must go and lodge a formal complaint with the local electricity board office about the issue. Chances are, most probably things will get resolved at this stage only. When matter over the disputed bill is not resolved and the notice stays, approaching court is the right decision.

Step2 Applying for injunction (stay) on the notice. Filing for injunction before the court to pass a decree of temporary injunction in favour of the plaintiff and against the defendant from disconnecting the electricity of the plaintiff at the plaintiff‟s.

Step3 Under matters related with electricity services, courts jurisdiction is barred. No one can go directly to court. (There are certain exception where one may file for an injunction as done in step2)

Step4 An assessing officer of State electricity board looks into these matters. Aggrieved person is entitled to file objections against the provisional assessment before the assessing officer, who will, after affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing to such person, pass a final order of assessment within thirty days from the date of service of such order of provisional assessment, of the electricity charges payable by such person.

Step5 After hearing the party if the assessing officer still thinks the party is guilty of such unauthorised use, then an extra tariff for those 30 days will be charged.

Step6 Aggrieved after the final order can appeal to State Commission.

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