Topic:
ELECTRIC UTILITIES; NATURAL GAS; PUBLIC UTILITIES; PUBLIC UTILITY REGULATION;
Location:
UTILITIES;

OLR Research Report


October 31, 2008

 

2008-R-0608

UTILITY SHUT-OFF PROVISIONS

By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for a description of the protections against utility shut-offs for low-income and disabled customers.

SUMMARY

CGS 16-262c bars investor–owned and municipal electric utilities from terminating service to low-income and other “hardship” customers who are unable to pay their bills from November 1st to May 1st. Gas utilities cannot terminate service during this period to their customers who heat with gas. Electric utilities can not refuse to reinstate service to disconnected customers during this period and gas utilities can only refuse to reinstate service under limited circumstances. The law does not specifically address disabled customers, although hardship customers include those households that have a seriously ill member.

There are several statutory provisions designed to minimize service terminations that are available to all residential customers. The law also limits when utilities can terminate service to residential and nonresidential customers, e.g., they cannot terminate service on weekends or legal holidays.

PROTECTIONS THAT APPLY TO HARDSHIP CUSTOMERS

As defined by CGS 16-262c, hardship cases include, but are not limited to customers:

1. receiving local, state, or federal public assistance;

2. whose sole source of financial support is Social Security, Veterans' Administration, or unemployment compensation benefits;

3. who are unemployed heads of a household whose household income is less than 350% of the federal poverty level;

4. who are seriously ill or who have a household member who is seriously ill;

5. whose income falls below 150% of the federal poverty level; or

6. whose circumstances threaten to deprive the customer or his or her dependent children of food and the necessities of life if payment of a delinquent bill is required.

From November 1st to May 1st, electric utilities cannot (1) terminate service to hardship cases who are unable to pay their entire bill or (2) refuse to reinstate service to such customers whose service had been terminated during the rest of the year.

Gas utilities cannot terminate service during this period to hardship customers who heat with gas. Gas utilities can only refuse to reinstate service under limited circumstances. Specifically, gas companies can refuse to reinstate service only if the customer has failed to pay, since the preceding November first, the lesser of: (1) 20% of the outstanding principal balance owed the company as of the date of termination; (2) $100, or (C) the minimum payments due under the customer's amortization agreement. This exception does not apply to the state's only municipal gas utility, which serves Norwich.

GENERALLY APPLICABLE PROTECTIONS

Provisions Open to Residential Customers

In addition to the above provisions, no electric or gas utility can terminate or refuse to reinstate residential electric or gas service where the customer lacks the financial resources to pay his or her entire account if the termination or failure to reinstate such service would create a life-threatening situation for the customer or a member of his or her household. This provision applies to all customers, apparently throughout the year.

During any time that a residential customer with a delinquent bill is subject to termination, electric and gas utilities must give him or her an opportunity to enter into a reasonable amortization agreement to pay off the bill and avoid termination. The utilities must submit plans for how they will meet these requirements for Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) approval.

In addition, electric and gas companies (but not municipal utilities) must offer their residential customers arrearage forgiveness programs. To be eligible, the customer must:

1. apply and be eligible for benefits under the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP);

2. authorize the company to send a copy of his monthly bill directly to an energy assistance agency for payment; and

3. enter into, and comply with, an amortization agreement consistent with DPUC policies and decisions which reduce the customer's bill by the amount of benefits the company reasonably expects to receive from CEAP or other energy assistance programs.

The company must budget a customer's payments over a 12-month period, including an affordable additional amount to pay for any arrearage. The payment plan must be designed so that the customer will not lose any energy assistance benefits. At the customer's request, different terms can apply. When a customer authorizes the company to bill an energy assistance agency directly, the agency must pay the company directly.

If the customer meets these requirements either from the time his or her account becomes delinquent or from November 1st to April 30th, the company must forgive an amount equal to his or her heating payments plus the amount paid by CEAP between November 1st and April 30th. The company must forgive an additional amount equal to the customer's payment plus any payments made on the customer's behalf if he or she continues to comply with the payment plan from April 30 to October 31. The benefits provided under the act cannot result in a credit balance in the customer's account. Customers cannot be denied benefits due to company errors.

Provisions Open to All Customers

There are additional restrictions on when electric, gas, water, and telephone utilities can terminate service that apply to all of their customers. They cannot terminate service (1) on any Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday, or day before any legal holiday; (2) at any time during which the utility's business offices are not open to the public; or (3) within one hour before the closing of the utility's business offices. They also generally cannot terminate service on Fridays. However, they can terminate service for their nonresidential customers on a Friday which is not a legal holiday or the day before a legal holiday if the utility's business offices are open to the public the succeeding Saturday.

KM:ts