Phone company makes amends for bill errors
I have been overcharged by Hawaiian Telecom, and Hawaiian Telecom withdrew funds from my checking account on the automatic payment plan two weeks earlier than listed on the monthly bill. Hawaiian Telecom was late in billing for April, causing an incorrect past due with my May bill. On May 30, they finally deducted $37.81 and then followed on June 2 with another deduction of $75.62. Of this, $37.81 was paid to them with the May 30 deduction, and the second $37.81 should not have been deducted from my account until June 16, per their statement. I have tried to call Hawaiian Telecom and either get "all circuits are busy" or wait on endless hold for over 45 minutes before giving up. I called their customer relations number at 2 p.m. another day, and now it's 24 hours later and still no return call. This is outrageous! Can you help?
Answer: Hawaiian Telcom apologized for the errors, saying it already has taken steps to correct them.
It turns out you were not the only one to be billed incorrectly.
On June 6, the same day we asked about your complaint, Hawaiian Telcom said it discovered billing errors that affected customers with automatic bill payment and invoice dates of May 13 and 16.
As soon as the error was found, "we reversed the entire amount of the payment, and on June 16, the correct amount for May only will be processed," said spokeswoman Ann Nishida.
Nishida said affected customers will be sent a letter explaining the error and steps Hawaiian Telcom is taking to make amends.
As reported earlier (Kokua Line, May 7), Hawaiian Telcom's April bills came out late because of its transition to a new billing system. Subsequently, automatic payments were delayed, Nishida said.
She explained that automatic payments typically occur 20 days after a bill is mailed.
"To get back to the regular billing schedule, May bills went out before the automatic payments were made for the April bill," she said. "Thus, for these customers, the May bill reflects charges for both April and May, so an amount larger than anticipated was sent to us via automatic payment."
Nishida said that if the error causes an overdraft charge from a bank, customers should send Hawaiian Telcom the overdraft notice. The charge will be credited on the next billing statement, she said.
At this point, the company expects to be back to "normal" billing cycles by the middle of this month.
"Because of the delays, as we did for April, we are not assessing late fees on May statements," Nishida said.
Meanwhile, questions about the new bills "and some errors" continue to generate a high volume of calls, she said. Even with staff working mandatory overtime and the addition of temporary workers, many customers, as in your case, may still not be able to get through.
"This is a temporary situation and we are working very hard to respond as soon as possible to every incoming call," Nishida said.
She said the company also has added an option where a customer who has been on hold for at least four minutes can leave a message. "Our goal is to return these calls within 48 hours," she said.
» Since Hawaiian Telcom took over a couple of months ago, I have been having problems with my phone bills. Waiting for someone to answer the phone is another story! I am being charged for "collect calls" that I am not home to accept, although my answering machine is on. Hawaiian Telcom says I will not be billed for these calls, but I am being charged a whopping $5.99 per call. My total so far for two months is about $95. They say I will be credited, but see no credit on my bill because of the cycle. -- Sally
» In our May billing from Hawaiian Telcom, we were charged a $5.99 surcharge for each of 10 long-distance calls in the "operator services" section, for a total of $112. I'm afraid a lot of people are on automatic bill-paying plans and will not pay attention to their bills. Hawaiian Telcom has not come out with a blanket notice to tell its customers that they should get that charge taken out. Our total phone bill was $174.09. We called the company and was told there was a system-wide failure and a lot of people are going to get these erroneous bills. I suggested it would be a courtesy if the company said, "Hey, we screwed up." -- Don
Hawaiian Telcom again issued an apology, saying the $5.99 charges were due to a software error.
The problem has been corrected and the company will be issuing credits to affected customers, which should appear on the June billings, Nishida said.
She noted that Hawaiian Telcom began processing more than 600,000 bills a month in April.
Prior to this, they were processed by Verizon on the mainland.
Hawaiian Telcom had been "renting" billing systems from Verizon while the company's new systems were being created, she said.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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