Coakley

BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced an agreement Wednesday with a utility repair contractor that allegedly sent more than 900,000 misleading solicitations and renewal notices to Massachusetts National Grid customers.

HomeServe paid $75,000 to Coakley's Local Consumer Aid Fund to address allegations of deceptive and unfair advertising. HomeServe is also required to clearly disclose in future advertisements that it is not a part of National Grid and to make clear that its services are optional, not a utility bill that is required to be paid.

"With another heating season upon us, Massachusetts residents require and deserve clear and fair information about the repair services available for their heating and electric systems," Coakley said. "Consumers must receive forthright information from service providers in order to make informed choices."

HomeServe mailed the solicitations to customers of National Grid in late 2010 and early 2011.

HomeServe, an independent company headquartered in Connecticut, purchased National Grid Energy Services, an unregulated affiliate of National Grid USA that offered service contracts to National Grid consumers. The contracts included the repair of heating, gas, electric and water lines and equipment in certain areas of Massachusetts.

Coakley alleged that HomeServe mailed solicitations and renewal notices to 946,000 National Grid customers in Massachusetts that gave the impression that the notices were from the utility itself. The notices allegedly also gave the impression that they were utility bills and not offers to provide a repair service. Coakley's office alleges that the advertisements also gave false impressions about the cost of repairs and about whether the repairs were the responsibility of the homeowner, the utility or the homeowner's insurance company.

Under the terms of the settlement, HomeServe must clearly disclose in future advertisements that it is not a part of National Grid and all of the material terms and conditions of its offers. HomeServe must also make clear that its services are optional and not a utility bill that is required to be paid. If HomeServe fails to abide by these terms, it will be required to pay a $50,000 civil penalty. HomeServe also paid $10,000 to cover the costs of the case.

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