A trash hauler that allegedly tripled its charges with little notice to Bucks County residents was among the top consumer complaints received by a government agency last year, according to new report.
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a Washington pro-consumer group, released its findings Tuesday from a survey of 35 city, county, and state consumer agencies. The annual survey seeks to identify the most-common, fastest-growing, and worst consumer complaints reported in 2018.
One example highlighted in the report came from the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection, which said Tuesday that it has received roughly 150 complaints since 2018 about Republic Services, a trash and recycling company, over its services and increasing fees.
Consumers who were enrolled in a quarterly autopay system were unable to cancel in time and avoid drastic fee hikes, the report said. When customers did cancel, they were billed unexpectedly for removing the trash containers, according to the report.
The CFA report did not identify the company, but Michael Bannon, director of the Bucks County consumer agency, said Tuesday that the complaints were about Republic Services, which is based in Phoenix. The company billed residential customers directly after being approved as a vendor in several municipalities, Bannon said.
A spokesman for Republic Services said that “the issues from last year in Bucks County have been addressed and resolved.”
According to Bannon, the company blamed the fee hikes on increased costs associated with China restricting its import of recyclables. He said customers reported that their trash bills doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in some instances.
“The increase had gone through autopay,” Bannon added. “That did cause some problems. In some cases, consumers weren’t aware that it was happening.”
The Bucks County agency was able to resolve every complaint, Bannon said. Either Republic waived fees or customers were able to sever their contract with the trash company, he said.
Consumers should always look at their bill before a scheduled payment is made to ensure there aren’t mistakes or unauthorized charges, the CFA says. Customers should immediately contact the company and their financial institution if there is a problem, and tell the financial institution once a service previously enrolled in autopay is canceled.
In addition to highlighting individual examples, the CFA compiled a list of the top 10 consumer complaint categories in 2018 based on the topics that appeared most frequently when the group surveyed state and local consumer agencies. They are:
- Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, auto leasing, rentals, and towing disputes.
- Home Improvement/Construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
- Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
- Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.
- (Tie) Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics. Utilities: Complaints about gas, electric, water and cable billing and service.
- Health Products/Services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, medical billing issues.
- (Tie) Credit/Debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics. Communications: Misleading offers, installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with telephone and internet services.
- Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases.
- Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
- (Tie) Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances. Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams, and other common frauds.