In exercise of the powers conferred on the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) by the defunct Electric Power Sector Reform Act, but reinforced and reconfirmed under the provisions of the new legislation regulating electricity in Nigeria, the Electricity Act 2023 and other enabling powers, the Commission made the Customer Protection Regulations 2023.
The Regulations are divided into 5 chapters that border General Provisions; Procedures for the Connection and Disconnection of Electricity Services; Meter Reading, Billing, Cash Collections and Credit Management for Electricity Services; Customer Complaint Handling Standards and Procedures and Customer Service Standards.
The Regulations seek to provide a regulatory framework for the consolidation of existing regulatory instruments of the Commission on the protection of customers in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) into one regulatory instrument.
Other objectives of the Regulations are to reinforce frameworks for the protection of end-use customers in NESI, align and update customer service standards in NESI to conform with international best practice, and the protection of the rights of end-use customers of distribution licensees by specifying the minimum standards of service delivery.
The scope of the Regulations applies to all licensees and holders of mini-grid permits that have been issued licenses/permits to distribute/supply electricity to end-use customers; and end -use customers that contracted for the receipt of electricity supply from distribution licensees. The regulatory instrument gives proper provisions for customer complaints handling standards and procedures; meter reading, billing, cash collections and credit management for electricity supply; connection and disconnection procedures for electricity supply and services; customer service standards of performance for distribution companies; methodology for the determination of connection charges for electricity supply.
The Regulations came into force on the 29th day of March 2023 pursuant to the order of the Commission, the execution by the Chairman of the Commission and the seal of the Commission affixed thereon.
This piece seeks to enlighten electricity consumers and stakeholders of the operations obtainable under the Regulations as they relate to electricity consumption as well as the framework of protecting the right of electricity consumers within the purview of the law.
PROCEDURES FOR THE CONNECTION AND DISCONNECTION OF ELECTRICITY SERVICES
Distribution Companies have been charged with the responsibility of connecting customers from the available supply to the customer’s metering point within 48 hours of the provision of the requisite materials, when the Customers requiring connection to their premises either by overhead or underground networks have provided connection materials in accordance with the standards approved by the Distribution Company. The Distribution company is also responsible for the provision meter and meter accessories upon connection with a view to ensuring proper accounting or billing of the customer’s energy consumption.
For Maximum Demand Customers, that is, grid connected customers that use their premises for purposes other than exclusively as a residence, they are discharged from the responsibility of paying any charge or fees for the inspection, survey, testing and commissioning of electricity supply to their premises. These costs shall be borne by the Distribution Company.
While Regulations 16 and 17 provides for procedures for a customer that requires to be connected to electricity supply at a premises that has existing supply and the Distribution Companies responsibility respectively, Regulations 18 and 19 provides for procedures for a customer that requires to be connected to electricity supply at a premises where there is no existing connection to the distribution system and the Distribution Companies responsibility respectively.
The Regulations also provide for conditions that Distribution Companies must fulfill to exercise their rights to disconnect customers for failure to pay their bills by the specified payment date. This is to categorically imply that a customer’s premises which is defaulting in payment and is to be disconnected, must have been issued a bill, stating the amount owed and the payment date or breaches of other terms and conditions agreed with the Distribution Company. The payment date must be at least 10 days from the date of the delivery of the bill to the customer, which may be physically to the -customer’s premises or by some other electronic means, including text messages or electronic mail, as agreed with the customer.
In addition, the period between the payment date and date of scheduled disconnection for nonpayment should not be less than 2 working days after the payment date and the Distribution Company must verify from its records that payment has not been made by the Customer.
However, the blanket provision of Regulation 20 is not without limitation of operation. A customer of electricity supply is not entitled to notice from a Distribution Company where the customer is connected to the Distribution Company’s network in an unauthorized manner; where the customer’s connection is considered to be dangerous to the integrity of the network and/or affects the quality of supply to other customers; and where the Distribution is not granted access to read a meter that is located within the customer’s premises. In like manner, a Distribution Company may refuse a customer’s request for supply of electricity where the customer refuses to provide an acceptable means of identification and/or refuses to pay the security deposit requested by the Distribution Company.
A customer who has rightfully requested for disconnection from electricity supply to his premises, and the Distribution Company having considered such customer to be one to not prohibited to be disconnected, shall not be billed for any period after the date on which electricity supply should have been disconnected.
By the virtue of the Regulations, no Distribution Company is expected to disconnect electricity supply to a customer’s premises without leaving a written notice of disconnection advising the customer of the date and time of disconnection, the reason for the disconnection, the actions to be taken by the customer for the reconnection of supply and the contact address and telephone number of the team at the Distribution Company that will be responsible for the reconnection.
Furthermore, it is not in all circumstances that a Distribution Company disconnects a customer’s supply of electricity for non-payment. The Distribution Company shall not disconnect a customer’s supply where the customer has paid the amount billed, the customer has entered a payment arrangement with the Distribution Company and payments are being made in accordance with that arrangement, and or where the customer has filed a complaint on the unpaid bill in accordance with the Commission’s customer complaints procedure and the complaint remains unresolved.
Moreover, a Distribution Company is also estopped from disconnecting electricity supply to any premises where, it is aware, that a life support machine is in use, as such customers would have entered an acceptable arrangement with the Distribution Company for the settlement of their bills and the Distribution Company may seek to recover any debt due from these customers by other legal means.
Chapter II of the Regulations was not completed without providing remedies and compensations for customers that are disconnected in contravention of the regulations. Customers wrongfully disconnected shall be compensated with energy credits, that are equivalent to their average daily consumption computed on the basis of their consumption or bills for the previous 3 months, for each day the wrongful disconnection lasts. The remedy of reconnection applies to customer’s premises under the provision of regulation 27 of the regulatory instrument.
METER READING, BILLING, CASH COLLECTIONS AND CREDIT MANAGEMENT
The regulatory instrument has mandated every Distribution Company to obtain through its authorized representatives, an actual reading of meters within its area of operations every month but not later than once in every three months. The inability of any Distribution Company to obtain a meter reading at a customer’s premises guarantees it to leave in the premises a notice explaining its inability to obtain a meter reading. However, in exceptional circumstances where a Distribution Company estimates a customer’s consumption of electricity which shall be as approved by the Commission, it shall ensure that the estimate accurately reflects the customer’s expected usage for the period based on prior consumption over the preceding 3 (three) months and shall not under any circumstance artificially inflate it. The Regulation also provides a customer to request his Distribution Company to undertake a final reading of his meter t the time of vacating his premises and the reading is to be used to calculate his final electricity usage in the premises and the procedure such is follow.
Categorically stated, the Regulation 29 (6) of the regulatory instrument provides that the only recognized customer of a Distribution Company, for the purposes of billing and bill settlement, is the registered owner of the property or any person authorized by the registered owner to use and settle electricity bills on the premises. All electricity bills are required to be in a format easily understood by customers and is to contain necessary information. Where a customer makes a payment to a Distribution Company, the Distribution Company is required to issue to the Customer a receipt for the full value of the payment made. Where it is established that a Distribution Company has not complied with Commission’s approved methodology for billing unmetered customers, the Distribution Company is required to refund the excess charges to the customer at the next billing cycle.
CUSTOMER COMPLAINT HANDLING STANDARDS AND PROCEDURES
Every Distribution Company by the authority of the regulatory instrument is required to establish customer complaints units (CCU) across its operational area to ensure ease of access to all customers across the Distribution Company’s operational area, which shall be primarily responsible for receiving and resolving customer complaints.All complaints are to be acknowledged by the Distribution Company in a manner that allows for traceability. Where the complaint is not resolved within the first 15 days , the Distribution Company is required to notify the customer in writing with reason(s) and request for no more than 15 days only during which period the complaint shall be resolved unless the resolution requires, by its nature, such as construction works, a longer period.
A customer dissatisfied with the outcome of the handling of his complaint(s) by the CCU of the Distribution Company may refer his complaint(s) to the Commission’s Forum Office at the expiration of maximum allowable period of 30 days. Upon conclusion of proceedings, if the Forum is satisfied that any of the allegations contained in the complaint are proven, it shall communicate its decision in writing to both the Distribution Company and the complainant, ruling on refunding the complainant any undue charges paid, removing the defects/deficiencies in the subject of the complaint, addressing the root cause of hardship or withdrawing any hazardous electrical services being offered. Any person that is not satisfied with a decision of the Form may file an appeal to the Commission within ten working days from the date of the decision.
From the foregoing, the advent of the Customer Protection Regulations 2023, without controversy has brought a whole lot to the doorsteps of consumers and customers of electricity consumption but to state that consumers and customers have full acquaintance with the wherewithal of its operation would be mere assumption. There is therefore the need for regulatory advisory and consultation to further and better maximise the plethora provisions afforded electricity consumers and customers under the regime of the new regulatory instrument.
 Sections 80 and 96
 Sections 33, 34 and 231 (3)
 Chapter II of the Regulations.
 Regulation 9
 Regulations 12 (2) and 13 (1)
 Regulation 20
 Regulation 21
 Regulation 22
 Regulation 23(1) (2)
 Regulation 24
 Regulation 25
 Regulation 26 (1)
 Regulation 26 (2)
 Chapter III of the Regulations.
 Regulation 28
 Regulation 29
 Regulations 31 (3) and schedule 2 of the Regulations.
 Regulation 37 (3)
 Regulation 42
 Chapter IV of the Regulations
 Regulation 43
 Regulation 43 (4)
 Regulation 43 (8)
 Regulation 43 (9)
 Regulation 51
 Regulation 52