The state is trying to block Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) from reporting payment histories of its customers -- whether they are delinquent or not -- to the consumer credit agency Experian.
In a petition filed with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the Division of Rate Counsel said such disclosures by the state’s largest utility violate an express prohibition of state law.
"Under the laws of this state, PSE&G has no right to disclose individual customer information to a third-party without their consent," said Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand. "This type of practice could harm all ratepayers, and opens up the floodgates on utility disclosure of personal information."
The utility announced in September that it would begin to notify Experian of its customers’ payment history as early as January 2011, a decision that was objected to by consumer advocates and others, and led the utility to hold off on the initiative.
"We believe New Jersey law would permit us to do this," said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for the utility. "However, we continue to review our options and are in discussions with Rate Counsel and the BPU staff on this issue."
Brand said that other regulated electric and gas utilities in New Jersey do not disclose customer payment information. The director said that if PSE&G is allowed to move forward with its plan, customers may face the risk of erroneous credit reporting.
"They are proposing to report information on over 2 million customers per month," Brand said. "Mistakes are bound to occur."
"During these tough economic times, everyone is struggling to stretch every dollar, and a person’s payment information and credit rating and report can affect whether they get a loan or a job," she said.
"Ratepayers have a right to expect their personal information will not be disclosed by utilities," Brand added. "The statute prohibits it and confidence in the regulatory system requires it."