Utility company errs in sending customer’s bill to his ex-spouse after computer system uses out-of-date information

Early resolved case summary #3

Complaint summary

A utility company set up a new account for an individual at his new residential address. The customer later found out that his first bill was mailed to his ex-spouse’s home. The customer claimed that this constituted a breach of his privacy.

The company replied promptly to the customer’s initial emails about the incident and commenced an internal investigation. In the meantime, the complainant also contacted our Office. The company’s investigation concluded that when the complainant’s new account was opened and his personal information was being collected, the company’s computer system automatically populated the field for his new mailing address using his ex-wife’s current address since the two individuals had previously held a joint account with the company.  At the same time, the customer service representative had neglected to verify with the customer if the mailing address provided by the system was the correct one for the new account, as required by standard company procedures.

Outcome

The utility company recognized its error and provided a written explanation and apology to the complainant. To prevent any recurrences of the incident, the company: revised its quality assurance process; communicated this revision to all call-center team leaders; created a refresher training program for customer service representatives and conducted reviews of their performance; and took appropriate disciplinary measures with the employee involved in the incident. In addition, the company began to research technological solutions to prevent the automatic generation of existing addresses whenever new accounts are being set up.

After receiving an apology and a comprehensive explanation of how the incident occurred, the complainant was satisfied with the actions taken by the company and as a result, our Office closed the individual’s complaint.

Lesson Learned

  • Personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual or as required by law.
  • Organizations shall make their employees aware of the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of personal information.

February 2014

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