Gov’t’s COVID–19 electricity relief – a frequently asked questions and answers explainer

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John Peter Amewu, Energy Minister

The President of the Republic of Ghana, in his address to the nation on April 9, 2020 providing update on COVID–19, announced special electricity relief on electricity bills to consumers. The Northern Electricity Distribution Company (NEDCo) is making the necessary preparations to implement the directives.

To this end, this Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQ) seeks to help sensitize the public and clear all lingering doubts and anxieties regarding the implementation.

Question: What is the special COVID–19 electricity relief all about?

Answer: The special COVID–19 electricity relief is a special Government of Ghana (GoG) intervention which offers payment of bills of lifeline (0-50kwh) customers for three months (April, May, June) and all other customers, 50 percent of their bills using March, 2020 bill as benchmark. The relief covers all classes of customers (residential, non-residential, and Special Load Tariff (industrial). They are aimed at providing some financial relief to the citizenry in response to the hardships that have been imposed on them by COVID–19.

Question: When is the government’s directive taking effect?

Answer: The directive takes immediate effect, April 1, 2020. For postpaid customers they will see the relief on their April, May and June 2020 electricity bills. For prepaid, implementation will be by May 1, 2020 on their first purchase and in subsequent months.

Question: Is it not a simple political ploy that serves only the political interest of the government?

Answer: Certainly, No! COVID–19 is real and its devastating impact is global. With all the borders of Ghana closed and some major cities in Ghana locked down, the effect on economic activities country-wide cannot be over-emphasized. This situation therefore has had a roll-down effect on the incomes of people so the special COVID–19 electricity relief is as necessary as it is real. All consumers will soon begin to enjoy the subsidies fairly without discrimination.

Question: What support does the relief offer me?

Answer: It offers you free electric power if you consume 50kWh or below (lifeline customers) per month. For all other customers, it absorbs 50 percent of your bills using your March, 2020 bill as the benchmark.

Question: Why does the relief discriminate between lifeline customers and non-lifeline customers?

Answer: Lifeline customers are generally regarded as under-privileged with low electricity consumption. Accordingly, since the economic hardships imposed by COVID–19 are generally across board, it is only prudent and proper that lifeline customers enjoy a total waiver while the others enjoy a 50 percent rebate using their March, 2020 consumption as the benchmark.

Question: Why the need for a benchmark? Why is the benchmark March, 2020?

Answer: There is a very crucial need for a benchmark in order to avoid abuse. The benchmark should be your consumption at a time you did not know about any intention or plan of government to absorb part of your electricity bills for a period of time so that it can give a fairly accurate and true picture of your regular consumption.

Since the reliefs are to take effect from April, 2020, and the announcement was only made in April, the use of the preceding month, March 2020 as the benchmark is most appropriate. Once your true (uninfluenced) monthly consumption is known, it will help determine or approximate your subsequent monthly consumptions (especially, during the duration of the relief).

Question: When will the implementation begin and why?

Answer: The implementation of the relief will commence effectively on May 1, 2020 for prepaid customers. For postpaid customers, it will reflect on their April, 2020 bills that will be delivered by end of May, 2020. March 2020 bills are being processed and scheduled to be delivered by end of April 2020. The slight delay in the implementation is necessary to allow for smooth and harmonious implementation.

Since the benchmark month is March, 2020, it would be vital to get the actual consumption of prepaid and postpaid customers for that month.

Question: Is it not an act of sabotage for the utilities to propose not to implement the presidential directive until May 2020 when the directive says in clear terms that it is to take effect in April 2020?

Answer: No. there is no sabotage in this. At the date of the announcement, a lot of clients had already purchased their credits. Implementing it immediately would have therefore been to their disadvantage. For post-paid clients, nothing has changed. They will see their benefits at the end of the month on their bills. This period also allows for technical testing.

Question: Why is the relief for only three months?

Answer: The relief, as explained earlier, is in response to the economic hardships visited on the citizenry by COVID–19. It is intended by the government to provide some respite in the face of the difficulties. Three months (a quarter of a year) is therefore a fairly good duration for such a relief.

Question: How do I receive the credit due me as a prepayment customer?

Answer: For smart prepayment meters, relief/credit will be sent remotely to your meters for April, May and June, 2020. Customers will be notified accordingly. For non-smart prepayment meters, at your first purchase within the month your relief will be added to whatever amount you want to deposit (purchase) at vending.

Question: What happens to me, a PPM customer who has credits rolling over into May, 2020?

Answer: There will be no adverse effect as the billing systems are designed to bill customers monthly and reset for next monthly billing at the end of every month. In other words, the amount of relief that will be given monthly will add to the credit rolled over to the next month.

Question: What happens to me, a postpaid customer who has credits in my account at the start of May, 2020?

Answer: This will not affect the balance adversely. The relief due the customer will be credited to the customer’s account monthly and will appear on the bills for the three months.  In other words, what is due you under the special relief will appear on the bills for the three months. It is important, however, to note that the emphasis will be on your actual bill for March, 2020 as the benchmark.

Question: Since March, 2020 is the benchmark, what happens to me if I suffer over-billing or under-billing in that month through no fault of mine?

Answer: That will be an isolated case so it will be investigated on its own merit and the necessary adjustments (amendments) effected to allow for the corrected consumption figure to be used as the benchmark.

Question: Supposing I am able to conserve my electricity consumption in April, May and June, 2020 to the extent that it is lower than March, 2020, will I have less relief than the one due me as per March, 2020 benchmark?

Answer: The relief will be full payment for lifeline customers. and all other customers 50 percent of the March 2020 bill.

Question: What happens to me if my consumption in the period April, May, and June, 2020 exceeds that of March, 2020?

Answer: You would be given the full relief within the limits for each of the three months if you are a lifeline customer and 50 percent of the March 2020 bill amount for other customers as directed by the President. The March 2020 bill is the benchmark.

Question: How would you determine who qualifies as a lifeline customer?

Answer: The billing system will use customers’ consumption within the period.

Question: As a regular customer (both PPM and Postpaid), what do I have to do to access the credits/units due me from the COVID-19 reliefs?

Answer: For postpaid it will be part of the customer bill. The utilities will make arrangements and give the relief credits to prepaid customers when they come to buy credits at vending points effective May 1, 2020. Postpaid clients will, however, see the benefit as part of their bills at the end of the month.

Question: If I am a prepaid customer, how do I know the relief amount I am due?

Answer: If the amount consumed is less than GH¢19.26 you are a lifeline customer. You will, therefore, be given in full units purchased or consumed in March 2020. For other customers, check the total amount you purchased or consumed in March 2020. You will be given units to the tune of 50 percent of the March 2020 amount.

Question: What happens to me if my consumption for March 2020 fell drastically low because I travelled out of town in that month and did not use much electricity but I am back now?

Answer: The utilities will have no way of independently confirming your claim; conversely, if you had held some unusual social or even commercial functions in March, 2020 that ballooned your consumption in that benchmark month, the Utilities would not be able to independently determine this. Accordingly, we would have to stick to the March bill amount as is rightly recorded as the benchmark.

Question: What happens to me if I do not have any money to buy credits between now and May 1, 2020, the date the utilities propose to commence implementation of the Presidential directives?

Answer: It does not change anything. The benchmark is March 2020.

Question: I am on a smart meter which allows me to deposit cash on it at the beginning of each month and it calculates my monthly consumption and does the configuration at the end of the month. How do you cater for me under the COVID-19 reliefs?

Answer: The May 1, 2020 date for implementation will take care of it. The system is designed to reset itself at the end of every month and start billing afresh from the 1st of the next month. Once the relief is deposited in a new month, full benefit will be given accordingly.

Question: What happens if my consumption for the benchmark period is zero – either as a prepayment customer or a postpaid customer.

Answer: You will receive GH¢2.13. The GH¢2.13 is the total billed amount because of service charge. However, if you a lifeline customer you get the full benefit.

Question: Do I benefit from the relief if my account has been disconnected?

Answer: If you were disconnected for an illegality, you shall not benefit. If you were disconnected for non-payment you could be reconnected for the period. It’s a case by case basis.

Question: Does the relief affect non-residential customers? e.g. Barbers, Seamstresses, etc.

Answer: Yes, it affects all electricity customers except disconnected customers.

Question: How do I know the relief due me as a postpaid customer when I do not receive my bills?

Answer: You will receive your bills when ECG resumes meter reading and bill distribution. If you can provide your email address your bill will be delivered through email (about 80 percent of high consuming customers including SLT customers receives their bills through email). Very soon SMS messages will be sent to customers who have provided their correct phone numbers.

Question: How much is the relief costing government?

Answer: It is costing the Government about GH¢1.1billion.

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