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City of Calgary mulling low-income program for water bills

The city paid out nearly $1 million in water billing adjustments last year after citizens raised concerns

Calgary's water bills have been adjusted after customers complaints in 2017.

Elizabeth Cameron / for Metro

Calgary's water bills have been adjusted after customers complaints in 2017.

The City of Calgary is working on a program to help those drowning in water bills.

In a Utilities and Corporate Services meeting scheduled for Wednesday, city administrators will pitch councillors on a program to assist those who can't afford their water bills. They're calling it a customer assistance program, and the report suggests it's a service 77 per cent of Calgarians polled in a recent survey want.

"I think it's an excellent idea," said Coun. Druh Farrell, who sits on the committee. "We offer a variety of services to Calgarians living in poverty and this is an essential service."

After several Calgarians complained about sky-high water bills, the city came up with a policy and agreed to reinburse coustomers who paid more than three times their typical bills.

The city paid out $947,000 to customers who rasied concerns between Dec. 2016 and Dec. 2017, according to Shannon Abbott, manager of customer and strategic services with water.

The City of Calgary has contracted ENMAX to provide billing support for citizens, and the company does have processses on the books to help those who can't pay their bills – usually they refer customers to agencies for assistance after working with the customer.

In Ontario, customer assistance programs for lower-income individuals exist, but they typically focus on electrical utilities, instead of water.

The city told Metro while there are social assistance programs in place, they're considering more help for customers.

"The Water Utility is further recommending to Council the establishment of a customer assistance program to help low income customers challenged with paying for their water bills," read a spokesperson statement.

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