Reliable access to electricity is vital for the development and progress of any nation. Nigeria has grappled with a persistent problem of irregular power supply and arbitrary disconnection of electricity services to consumers.
This has not only posed hardship for consumers but has also hindered economic growth and stifled productivity for businesses. Recognizing the urgency and importance of this matter, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (“NERC“) has taken a proactive step by formulating the Customer Protection Regulation, 2023 (the “Regulation”) to regulate the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (“NESI”). This Regulation, which was released on May 12, 2023 applies to and seeks to protect the interests of both electricity distribution companies (“DisCos“) and their customers.
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In this newsletter, we examine the key provisions of the Regulation with respect to the connection and disconnection of electricity supply vis-a-vis consumer protection.
1. Repeal of prior regulatory instruments
The Regulation repealed the existing NERC regulations which dealt with the protection of customers  and is, therefore, the sole Regulation on all customer-related matters in the NESI.
2. Requirements for connecting to electricity supply
Customers who require electricity connection to their premises are expected to provide all the connection materials needed in accordance with the standard approved by the DisCo, while the DisCo shall, within 48hrs of the provision of the required materials, ensure that electricity is connected to the customer’s premises. Upon connection, the DisCo is required to provide the meter and meter accessories to ensure proper billing of the customer’s energy consumption.
In addition to other requirements, a customer is required to provide the DisCo with acceptable means of identification and the DisCo reserves the right to reject the customer’s request for a supply of electricity where the customer refuses to provide identification and/or refuses to pay the security deposit required by the DisCo.
It should be noted that the Regulation provides that DisCos shall not charge Maximum Demand Customers (i.e, customers who consume high voltages and whose premises are not exclusively residential) any fees for the inspection, survey, testing and commissioning of electricity supply to their premises.
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3. When can a DisCo disconnect a customer’s electricity supply?
A DisCo reserves the right to disconnect the electricity supply to a customer where the customer fails to pay electricity bills on or before the payment date specified on the bill. The payment date must be at least 10 days from the date of delivery of the bill and the period between the payment date and the date of scheduled disconnection for non-payment should not be less than 2 working days. Therefore, a DisCo can disconnect a customer if he fails to pay the bill after 12 days of the delivery date of the bill. Where the DisCo fails to disconnect the customer after the date on which he should have been disconnected, the Regulation provides that such a customer must not be billed for that period.
However, it is important to note that the Regulation prevents discos from disconnecting electricity supply to a premise in which they are aware that a life support machine is in use. In such instances, the DisCo may recover existing debt by recourse to other legal means.
4. Is there any penalty or compensation for unjust disconnection of electricity supply?
Yes, there is. The Regulation provides that customers whose electricity supply have been disconnected in contravention of the Regulation shall be compensated with energy credits equivalent to their average daily consumption for every day the wrongful disconnection lasts.
5. What happens when a customer decides to move to another premises?
If a prepaid meter customer is moving out, a final meter reading must be requested from the DisCo to ensure there are no outstanding payments. If the customer’s negligence prevents the DisCo from accessing the meter, the DisCo will interrupt the electricity supply and issue the final bill. Customers are responsible for paying their debts and DisCos can collect debts from them. If a defaulting customer moves out, the debt must not be transferred to the new resident.
6. What is the procedure for handling a customer complaint?
All DisCos are expected to establish customer complaints units (“CCU”) which shall be primarily responsible for receiving and resolving customer complaints. The following are the procedures for handling customer complaints under the regulation:
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i. All complaints by the customer must first be made to the CCU of the DisCo and the DisCo must ensure that it acknowledges the complaint in a way that is traceable.
ii. Customers may lodge complaints through phone calls, SMS, emails or any other method created by the DisCo for receiving customer complaints.
iii. All complaints must be resolved within 15 days. Where the complaint is in relation to meter accuracy and reconciliation of bills, it must be resolved within a billing cycle of one month.
iv. Where the customer complaint is not resolved within the specified period, the DisCo shall give reasons in writing and request an extension of not more than 15 additional days from the customer to resolve the complaint.
v. After the expiration of a maximum period of 30 days, a customer who is not satisfied with the way his complaint has been handled by the Disco or where the Disco and the Customer are unable to agree on a resolution, the complaint may be referred to the Forum Office of the NERC.
Given the current terrain and reports of indiscriminate charges as well as unlawful disconnection from power supply, the issuance of the Regulation is timely and commendable. It is, however, important that the DisCos as well as the consumers are sensitized and enlightened about their rights and obligations under the Regulations. It is also important that efficient systems be established to ensure that the Regulation is given effect as this will not only address the challenges faced by customers but also help create a sustainable and efficient electricity supply industry in Nigeria.
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 -The Regulation repealed the following instruments: Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Customer Complaints Handling Standards and Procedures, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Connection and Disconnection Procedures for Electricity Services, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Customer Service Standards of Performance for Distribution Companies, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Methodology for the Determination of Connection Charges for Electricity Supply Regulations, and Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Meter Reading, Billing, Cash Collections and Credit Management for Electricity Supply Regulations.