DCA Frequently Asked Questions
How do I register a complaint against a product or service recently acquired from a contractor, store, or business venture?
The Division of Consumer Advocacy is responsible for matters related to regulated utilities. If you need assistance in dealing with a complaint related to retail, hotel, or business services, or a defective product you have purchased please refer your inquiries to the Office of Consumer Protection or the Consumer Resource Center. These offices will be able to better assist you with general questions and direct you to the resources needed to resolve your concern.
What are utility services?
Utility services include telecommunications, electrical utilities, natural gas, certain transportation services, and also water and wastewater treatment services provided by private companies. The Division does not represent consumers of water and wastewater services provided by city and county government agencies.
Are public utility services regulated?
Yes, because there is a need to protect the public interest. Public utilities generally require large investments in facilities and infrastructure, such as power and phone lines, in order to deliver their services. Because it is costly and usually not practical to build redundant infrastructure, it is difficult for other utility companies to compete. Local and federal governments regulate utility companies to ensure reliable service, fair prices, and, in some respects, to encourage competition.
What are the duties and responsibilities of the Division of Consumer Advocacy?
The Division is charged with representing, advancing, and protecting the interests of all consumers, including small businesses, of utility services before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and other state and federal agencies. The Division represents consumers as a whole and not on an individual basis.
How does the Division of Consumer Advocacy represent and protect consumers before the Public Utilities Commission?
The Division reviews all applications filed with the Public Utilities Commission in order to make recommendations to the Commission on behalf of consumers. The Division analyzes the applications to determine whether the utility company’s request is reasonable and in the best interest of consumers. The Division emphasizes keeping rates low while ensuring that the utility provides safe, reliable, and adequate service to consumers. The Division also considers consumer input from comments received at public hearings, and written or emailed statements submitted to our office. By using these methods the Division is able to look out for consumer interest and ensure that they are well protected.
What is a public hearing and how do I participate?
The Public Utilities Commission regularly holds public hearings after a company has made their application for a rate increase. Public hearings serve as a forum for the public to review and comment on the proposed application. Notice of the hearing is posted under announcements on PUC website, in local island newspapers, and statewide newspapers. We also list public hearings on the DCA website under Important Events. These notices provide the time, date, and place of the public hearing as well as a brief synopsis of related issues. In most instances the utility service provider will also send a copy of the notice to its customers along with the monthly bill. The public hearing is your opportunity to provide comments and express concerns to the PUC about a proposed rate increase. The Division strongly encourages those who testify to put their comments in writing prior to the hearing. Doing this gives the individual the opportunity to present their thoughts in an organized manner and allows the Commission to review those comments at a later time as they deliberate the the matter if they desire. Representatives from the utility service provider as well as the Commission and Consumer Advocate will always be in attendance at these meetings.
When/how can I give comments on utility matters?
The Public Utilities Commission accepts public comment on open dockets and other matters before the Commission. By submitting public comment, you grant the Commission permission to file your message and any identifying information you provide as a part of the public record for the docket in which your comments are filed, or to post your message and identifying information on the PUC website for non-docketed matters. To submit public comment visit: https://puc.hawaii.gov/contact/public-comments/
Do my comments really have an affect on the way utility rates are set?
The answer to this question is most definitely YES. All to often people fail to realize how their experiences, good or bad, with a utility company can affect the rate making decision process. Community and individual input play a necessary role because often times members of the Commission or the Consumer Advocates staff do not live in the areas where rate cases take place and therefore, cannot make informed decisions without information only ratepayers in the local community can provide.
What can I do if I disagree with a position taken by the Division of Consumer Advocacy?
Public and community input are among the most important and valuable aspects of our work. Which is why, if you are in disagreement with a position that the division has taken on a utility issue, the division welcomes your comments and suggestions. Please send your written statement to the Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Consumer Advocacy.
What steps should I take to resolve concerns about my monthly bill or complaints against my utility company?
Carefully Review Your Monthly Bill/Statement The best way to guard against improper or over billing charges is to understand the billing statement you receive each month. Reading and understanding a utility bill can be confusing at times which is why many businesses include a guide with monthly billing statements or on their website to assist you with this task. Take time to carefully review your statement to ensure that there are no discrepancies. Should you see a problem with your bill taking the following steps will provide you with a good start to fixing the problem. Contact Your Service Provider. Once you have identified a problem the first thing you should do is contact utility services provider. Often times dealing directly with the company is the quickest and best way to resolve concerns you may have regarding your utility services. Start with a customer services representative and work your way upward, exhaust all resources made available to you including contacting upper level management. Keep a record of your actions, noting the name and title of each person you speak to and the recommendations they give you. Also note the date and time of all conversations you have with company representatives. Keeping good records can be very helpful later on if these actions do not achieve the results you want. Contact the Public Utilities Commission. Once you have gone as far as you can with the company and have had no success your next course of action will be to contact the Public Utilities Commission. While the Division of Consumer Advocacy cannot resolve complaints or concerns raised by consumers it can help guide them through the process. Include copies of your personal records, as discussed above, and any other information that you have received from the company. The Commission has investigators on staff that may be able to assist you in resolving complaints. Copies of your letter should also be sent to the Division of Consumer Advocacy and your utility service provider, for easier identification these copies should somehow be labeled “Courtesy Copy”.