x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Residents protest over Dubai utility bills

Scores of Dubai residents say their water and electricity bills as much as doubled in September without explanation.

Power lines near Discovery Gardens in Dubai. Dewa has denied raising its rates and say the confusion has arisen because of a new billing format.
Power lines near Discovery Gardens in Dubai. Dewa has denied raising its rates and say the confusion has arisen because of a new billing format.

DUBAI // Scores of Dubai residents say their water and electricity bills as much as doubled in September without explanation. The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) has denied raising its rates. It says the customers have been confused by a new billing format - a point many of them dispute. "We can't afford this and will simply have to leave Dubai if this continues," said Kellie Whitehead, a resident of Arabian Ranches and one of those who say their September bill was twice the amount of the previous month.

The British freelance copywriter, who lives in a three-bedroom villa with her husband and three children, said her bill, which was already about Dh2,500 (US$680) a month because of their swimming pool and irrigation system, rose to Dh5,000. "We have no choice but to pay up because otherwise they will cut off the supplies," said Mrs Whitehead, who added that she had been in touch with Dewa several times but that the authority had not given her a clear answer about the apparent increase.

A group has even formed on the social networking site Facebook called "My Dewa bill increased in September 09 by a crazy amount for no reason!" One member claimed the bill for his three-bedroom flat in Al Barsha was Dh8,000. As of yesterday, the group had 144 members. Other Dubai-based websites have jumped on the bandwagon and are running similar discussions about what is causing the bills to shoot up.

Dewa insisted it had not increased its rates over the past two months. "Dewa assures that there is no increase in tariff charges for consumption of electricity and water as it remains as per the existing tariffs," it said in a statement yesterday. The utility provider said it had introduced a new format for its bills this month. That, it said, could be confusing people. "There is a normal fluctuation in bill amount depending on the actual consumption from one month to another, and it is possible that due to the change in the look of the bill, customers could have misunderstood that tariff is changed which is not correct," it said.

Residents countered that they were not using more electricity or water, but that the bills seemed to show they were. "It's got nothing to do with the new bill; I got the old-format bill in September," said Tony Lynch, who works as a manager at the Dubai Airport Free Zone and who was one those who joined the Facebook group. A number of the complaints are understood to be coming from the Arabian Ranches district, which is dotted with luxurious villas with pools, gardens and other energy-intensive amenities.

They are also coming from other areas, including Palm Jumeirah, Al Barsha, Dubai Marina, Mirdiff, and The Lakes. "My September bill was up by 58 per cent," said Mr Lynch, a resident of Mirdiff. "My average consumption is never more than Dh2,000 but in September my bill was Dh3,105." He added that his enquiries with Dewa had not got him very far. "The worst thing is that even if we get hold of them, they only send someone to check the meter," he said. "If the meter is fine, we still have to pay."

Abdullah al Hajri, the authority's executive vice president of customer service, said he was aware of the complaints and the Facebook group, and said every one was being examined in detail. "We have looked at each and every enquiry very seriously," he said. "I have myself checked a few of the complaints. People who have come to my office with their bills have been provided with bills for the whole year clarifying the charges.

"Nobody will change rates without announcement." Dewa said its new bill format was designed to provide customers with more information about their power and water usage so they could better monitor their consumption. The aim is to encourage conservation, it said. "As an example, we have added the meter reading dates which identifies the billing period more accurately," Dewa said its statement. "This information can easily identify the average daily consumption which then can be compared with the last month daily consumption so the customers can monitor there own consumption behaviour."

It added that anyone with a complaint or a question should contact its call centre at (04) 601-9999. pmenon@thenational.ae