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RI Poverty And Welfare Rights Group Demands Local National Grid Customer Service Center

A local poverty and welfare rights organization called the George Wiley Center says face-to-face interaction with a representative from National Grid would benefit lower-income utility customers.

Camilo Viveiros, coordinator of the George Wiley Center, said some customers need to pay their bills in-person since they don't have bank accounts and can’t pay online.

Without a walk-in customer service center, they’re forced to go to authorized payment centers, located in places like convenience stores.

Viveiros said those centers can take more than a week to get the money to National Grid, and that’s bad for customers at risk of losing their power for missing payments.

"This would be a small step that (National Grid) could take to offer better customer service to protect more customers, to make sure that folks know about the programs that you could utilize here in Rhode Island," Viveiros said.

It’s been almost 15 years since National Grid had a walk-in service center in New England. However, National Grid said in a statement there's a better way to assist lower-income customers.

"We believe the best way to reach our customers is to come to them, which is why we go into their communities instead of asking them to come to one location," National Grid said. "We will continue to work with regulators and others to explore additional ways to reach more individuals needing a face to face opportunity to speak with us."

National Grid added it holds Customer Assistance Expos in cities and towns across the state each month and sends consumer advocates to places like the George Wiley Center, the Department of Health Services and other Community Action Program agencies to meet with customers.

The purpose of the meetings is typically to help customers manage their bills and debt, but consumer advocates can also process online payments for customers using a bank account or credit card.

But Viveiros said expos and consumer advocates don't always work.

"Not everyone knows about those opportunities and it’s relying on customers to take their time, schedule appointments, rather than knowing there’s some place that’s open that you can go and get your issues resolved as best as you can," Viveiros said.

Viveiros added not all lower-income customers have bank accounts or credit cards, so they can only pay in-person with cash.

Members of the George Wiley Center recently demonstrated outside National Grid’s Providence office demanding a customer service center.

Camilo Viveiros, coordinator of the George Wiley Center, said re-opening a National Grid customer service center in Rhode Island would benefit lower-income utility customers who don't have bank accounts or credit cards.
Camilo Viveiros, coordinator of the George Wiley Center, said re-opening a National Grid customer service center in Rhode Island would benefit lower-income utility customers who don't have bank accounts or credit cards.
Avory Brookins / The Public's Radio