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CenterPoint's $47M refund errors saw thousands hit with late fees, bank charges

The gas and electricity provider blundered when trying to refund customers who were overcharged.

Thousands of CenterPoint customers in Minnesota were hit with late fees and bank charges because the utility made errors as it processed $47 million in refunds.

The gas and electricity provider appeared before the Public Utilities Commission on Thursday to request approval to refund interest incorrectly charged to customers.

The problems started in mid-November, when CenterPoint processed $47 million in refunds to customers after the utility imposed an interim 5.4 percent rate hike last year, only for the PUC to approve a much smaller final rate.

This required CenterPoint to pay back the difference it had charged customers, and it was revealed during Thursday's hearing that this averaged out to about $37 per customer.

But as it pushed out the refunds, CenterPoint miscalculated the sales tax, which in turn saw the company reverse the refunds on Dec. 4 so it could issue the correct amounts.

"[CenterPoint] encountered errors that delayed the reversal process and in some instances the corrected interim rate refund credits were not applied to customer accounts until December 7," the PUC document says.

This three-day delay resulted in 15,991 CenterPoint customers being hit with late fees totaling $25,000, while 57 checks totaling $570 bounced.

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What's more, a number of customers who have their bills taken directly from their bank accounts found themselves short due to the delay of the refund, and were hit with charges for having insufficient funds.

CenterPoint is going to credit $570,648 of interest to customers who incurred early bank drafts, while a further $174,710 of interest is owed to customers due to the delays in the rate refund.

The PUC unanimously approved the repayments on Thursday, and chastised CenterPoint for its slow reaction to the system problems.

It has demanded that any similar issues that arise over the next three years will require the PUC be informed within 4 hours of it happening.

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