Despite complaints dating back years, information on ARMS FAQs still misleading
Helena Grech Despite the numerous complaints raised with ARMS by consumers, the state water and electricity entity, over the way in which the eco-reduction benefit is calculated, information available online remains woefully misleading.
This issue was even raised with the Ombudsman way back in 2012 by an aggrieved consumer who was understandably frustrated with the state of affairs. In the Ombudsman’s conclusions, he wrote that while he could not uphold the complaint raised by the consumer, he recommended that ARMS and Enemalta ensure that information circulated to the public reflected the legislation underpinning the policy. The consumer had filed a complaint based on the information he had received from ARMS on the eco-reduction and, since his family’s annual consumption was below the advertised thresholds, he calculated that he was owed the reduction and therefore asked them to revise his bill.
From information made available online through the ARMS website and a ‘letter’ sent to this newsroom by an ARMS spokesperson for publication, the eco-reduction is still not being explained as clearly as it should be.
Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday wrote about the confusion surrounding the eco-reduction, where most citizens understood that it was calculated based on annual consumption.
The eco-reduction concession is a form of ‘discount’ awarded to consumers whose electricity consumption stays below a specific amount, acting as an incentive to be mindful of waste.
It is widely understood that eligibility for the eco-reduction can be achieved by not exceeding 1,750 units per person per year, in the case of households with more than one person registered to be living there. A proportion of 25 per cent is discounted on the first 1,000 units consumed and a further 15 per cent on the remaining 750 units consumed. For households with one registered person, the threshold is 2,000 units per year.
If that seems deceptively simple to under- stand, this is because it is. The official definition that has been provided by ARMS to consumers who have inquired through e-mail, as well as the definition found on the Enemalta website, reads:
“A Residential Premises Service, which is provided to the primary residence of an individual, shall be eligible for an Eco Reduction of the amount due for consumption of electricity for the billing period in question, which shall be calculated in accordance with the following rates and thresholds, on a pro rata basis of the relative annual cumulative consumption. The reduction will not be applicable if the indicated thresholds are exceeded.
“Two or more person households
Subject that consumption does not exceed 1,750 units per person per year, the following discounts will apply: (1) 25% on the first 1,000 units; (2) 15% on the remaining 750 units or part thereof.” Essentially, ARMS are calculating the threshold of electricity consumption per household based on the number of people registered, it calculates out how much that equates to in terms of consumption per day, and works out the ecoreduction based on the number of days covered by the bill. If, on one particular day, the threshold was exceeded by one single unit, the eco-reduction for the entire billing period is lost. In the conclusions to his investigation he carried out into the consumer’s complaint, the Ombudsman wrote: “In the circumstances, I cannot therefore uphold the complaint, even though I conclude that [the] complainant could have been misled by the incorrect information given out by ARMS Ltd and Enemalta. “I recommend that, in future, Enemalta and ARMS Ltd should be more careful when publicising schemes in which consumers are invited to participate and to ensure that information given scrupulously reflects the content of the legislation under which it is issued.” When looking at the ARMS Frequently Asked Questions, in the ‘billing section’, the question and reply are as follows:
“How is eco-reduction calculated?
“Your eco-reduction is calculated on the number of registered consumers on your account. If your electricity account has one registered consumer and you consume less than 2000 electricity units during the whole year, a reduction of 25% on the electricity bill will apply. For residences with more than one person registered on the account, and where consumption is less than 1,750 units per person, a reduction of 25% per person will apply on the first 1,000 units and a further 15% per person will apply on the remaining 750 units.”
At no point does it mention that the calculations are based on quota rationing for the number of days covering the billing period.
In a letter sent to this newsroom for publication back in November 2016 by the chief ARMS spokesperson, Nikita Zammit Alamango, in response to a citizen publically asking – on a radio talk show –how the eco reduction was calculated, she sent in the exact definition as stated above.
On the Enemalta website it is clearly stated that the calculation is based on the number of days covering the bill. It would, however, be better if Enemalta and, even more so, ARMS published an example of its calculations in order to inform the public that it is consumption per day that needs to be monitored.