ARMS using 'illegal' billing process under EU and local law, court told

Two consumers have filed a legal challenge against ARMS method of calculating electricity consumption

A legal challenge - the first of its kind - has been filed by two consumers against the method used by ARMS to calculate electricity consumption, in a move that may herald sweeping changes to electricity bills across Malta.

Lija residents Darren Cordina and Melvin Polidano filed a sworn application in the First Hall of the Civil Court against utilities suppliers ARMS Ltd, after being sent a bill for the period between 27 September 2016 and 26 January 2017.

The pair took legal action after it emerged that they were being asked to pay for the service on a pro rata basis calculated over the period of a year.

This should not happen, Cordina and Polidano said, because under legal notice 545.01, residential properties must be subject to the tariff based on cumulative annual consumption. This could be calculated on a pro rata basis according to a scale established in the law itself, but it also requires that an eventual computation be made to reflect the actual annual consumption and refunding any excess amounts paid out.

No reconciliation of accounts was ever sent, Cordina told the MaltaToday.

“If you use 100 units in the 2 months sampled, you are charged for 600 units at the end of the year, irrespective of the actual consumption – even if you didn't use a single unit outside those two months.”

This meant that consumers ended up paying for expensive units they had not used and never being refunded, he said.

Cordina had filed a judicial protest earlier this year contending that the bills he was receiving did not reflect the schedule to the legal notice, neither in the way the amounts due were calculated on an annual basis and nor did it provide for the eventual refunding or additional payments in the case where consumption would have exceeded the pro-rata bill.

Despite a number of requests to revise their tariff to correctly reflect the legal notice, ARMS failed to do so, or even acknowledge the issue, say the plaintiffs.

Cordina and Polidano argued that the method of computation is in violation of EU directives on the rights of the consumer, as well as other directives on energy efficiency and dishonest commercial practices in the internal market.

As things stand, there was no information on the actual price of the energy they consumed, said the men, who are requesting damages for the excessive charges which were causing them to limit their use of indoor heating.

The protest, which was signed by lawyer Maxilene Ellul, asked the First Hall of the Civil Court to declare ARMS' computations as being in violation of the law and to order the company to calculate consumer bills in a way that reflected the laws and EU regulations currently in force, from now on.

The plaintiffs also asked the court to declare that they had suffered damages as a result of billing practices adopted by ARMS and order it to compensate them accordingly.

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