AUSTIN (KXAN) - A glitch in Austin Energy's billing system has thousands of customers right where it hurts.
Austin Energy sent back several customers' $200 deposit. The deposit is required to open an account with the city-owned electric company. Customers usually get that deposit back after one year -- if they've paid their bills on time.
But once the utility realized it refunded the deposits too early for 39,000 customers, the company took the money back.
The mistake left customers looking for answers after getting a much higher bill the next month that was considered "past due."
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With summer temperatures blazing, utility bills typically see a spike as well. But for the customers affected, last month's bill came with a surprise.
"Back in July I received my bill and there was a credit, and it also reflected a payment of $200," said Laura Combs, an Austin Energy bill-payer for more than 10 years who called the KXAN Tipline about the problem.
But customers said when they called the utility company to dispute the credited money they were told their bill was correct.
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"I called to confirm that I indeed had this credit and they said absolutely you have a credit," said Carol Chambers, who has been a customer with Austin Energy for a year and a half and also called the Tipline.
The credited money was actually caused by a glitch in a new billing system installed last October by Austin Energy.
"It was a glitch," said Austin Energy's Ed Clark. The utility prematurely "just gave the deposits back to those customers."
When the those in the billing department noticed the problem, they knew it would take some overtime to fix the problem.
"We mobilized a team of 50 employees to manually correct the error," said Clark. "That was done and completed between July 23-28."
But the adjustment created a new headache for customers. Their bills went in the books as past due.
"When I called again they said that they changed their mind," said Combs. "They reversed the deposit and now that balance was outstanding."
Austin Energy officials say they are now working to fix the problem by sending out an apology letter and working with customers on a payment plan.
"We will give them for instance additional time to pay," said Clark. "Or help them with a little payment arrangement so they can take more than a month what ever it takes."
Laura Combs says that wasn't the case when she called to get her bill rectified.
"I was told no we are not going to apologize there was no offer for a payment plan," said Combs. "It was just that is just the way it is."
Customers say it's a situation that has left them heated with a much higher bill to pay this month.
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