How to Keep Utilities On All Year
How to Keep Utilities On All Year
This article explains how to
- avoid a shutoff, or
- get power back on if it has been shut off.
It also tells ways to work with the utility company if you owe them money.
Click on a topic:
- Life-Threatening Shutoffs
- The utility company cannot shut off your service on certain days
- The utility must give you a notice in writing before they shut off your service
- Can I keep my service on if I pay part of my bill?
- Protection from Winter Shutoffs
- Some low-income qualify for help to pay their utility bills
- Many low-income people qualify for “hardship” status
- What is an arrearage forgiveness program?
- How do I apply for an arrearage forgiveness program?
- Can I make an agreement with my utility to avoid or end a shutoff?
- How do I make a payment agreement I can afford?
- What if I cannot make my payments?
- Tips for Contacting Your Utility Company
- What to Do if You Cannot Make an Agreement that You Can Afford
- How to Apply for Energy Assistance
- Where to Get Help with a Utility Problem
If the life of someone in your household would be in danger without service, electric and gas companies are not allowed to shut off your service, in any season, even if you owe them money. Your doctor must sign a utility form saying a shut off would be “life-threatening.”
Shutoff where a baby under 24 months old is being discharged from a hospital
If you are low income and there is a baby under 24 months old living in your home who was hospitalized, and the hospital discharge papers say utility service is needed for “the health and well being” of the baby, utility service may not be shut off. If service is shut off, it must be turned back on.
It is against Connecticut law for the utility company to shut off your service in some dangerous situations. But if you owe them money, there are other ways the utility company can try to get you to pay your bill.
A utility cannot shut off your service on:
- Fridays (unless their business office is open on Saturday),
- legal holidays,
- the day before a legal holiday,
- within 1 hour before their business office closes, or
- any other times their office is closed.
Exception: In an emergency, such as a fire hazard, they can shut off your service anytime.
A gas, electric or water company must give you a notice in writing before they shut off your service
If your gas, electric or water company plans to shut off your service, they must give you 13 days written notice by regular mail, or 7 days written notice by certified mail.* Their notice must include a brief explanation of your rights.
*The number of days depends on whether they already notified you of the planned shutoff and how long ago they sent that notice.
Exception: In an emergency, such as a fire hazard, they can shut off your service without any notice.
CL&P, UI, CNG, SCG and YG cannot shut off your service if you pay at least 20% of what you owe, without giving you another written notice.
The best way to avoid a shutoff is to make a payment agreement you can afford to keep. Here are some programs that offer payment agreements:
Electric Utilities: Low-income electric utility customers can apply each fall to their electric company for “hardship” status. If you qualify, the utility cannot shut off your electricity between November 1 and May 1, even if you owe it money. If electric service is shut off, the utility must turn it back on by November 1, whether you have paid your bills or not.
Gas Utilities: Low-income gas utility customers can apply each fall to their gas company for “hardship” status. If you qualify, they cannot shut off your gas between November 1 and May 1, even if you owe them money.
If your gas service was not shut off last winter because you had “hardship” status, the gas company does not have to turn your gas back on by November 1 unless you have paid the lowest of these amounts since last November 1:
- 20% of what you owed on the shut-off date, or
- the minimum payment according to your payment agreement
You can get “hardship” status if:
- You get state or federal aid, including: TFA, SAGA cash assistance, State Supplement/AABD, Medicaid, or SSI (Supplemental Security Income);
- Your only income is from Social Security, Veterans Administration or Unemployment Compensation benefits,
- You are the head of a household and unemployed and the income of all adults who have been members of the household for at least 6 months is less than 300% of the poverty level;
- A household member is seriously ill (a doctor must sign a utility form that says this is the case);
- Your income is less than 125% of the poverty level; or
- You would not have enough money for food and other “necessities of life” if you had to pay a past-due utility bill.
If you are low income and have trouble paying your utility bill, you can apply for help to keep your utilities on, including:
- Apply for Energy Assistance, for help with your heating bill
- Apply for “hardship” status
- Apply for your utility company’s “arrearage forgiveness programs”
- Make a payment agreement you can afford
- Apply for free weatherization help available to low income homeowners and renters, to reduce your energy bills.
An arrearage forgiveness program means your utility company will forgive some or all of the money you owe them as long as you make regular payments on future bills.
The main arrearage forgiveness program is available to low-income customers who heat with service from CL&P, UI, CNG, SCG or YG and get energy assistance for their heating bill.
This program has two parts: Winter and Summer.
For the winter part, you must sign up with the utility company you use for heat between November 1 and April 30 and make a payment agreement.
If you cannot afford the monthly payment, ask your utility company to lower the amount. You can get a referral to a social service agency to see if you qualify for lower payments. If you do, your payment can be as low as $50 a month if that is all you can afford.
If you get energy assistance and make all your payments by April 30th:
- Your utility company will match the amount you paid plus your energy assistance amount to lower what you owe, and
- You can stay in the program for the summer.
For the summer part, if you make all your payments by October 31st, your utility company will match the amount you paid and apply it to your bill.
If the amount you have to pay each month is less than your bill, it is possible that the amount you owe the utility company will increase. Even if this happens, if you make all of the payments you agreed to on time, the utility company will not shut off your service.
If you do not qualify for the arrearage forgiveness program just described:
- Contact CL&P and UI to find out about their other arrearage forgiveness programs, or
- See below: How do I make a payment agreement I can afford?
Apply for the main program if your heat is gas or electric:
- Wherever you applied for winter energy assistance or the local Community Action Agency,
- Your utility company.
- If you don’t know where to apply, call Infoline at: 2-1-1.
If you do not qualify for an arrearage forgiveness program, work with your utility to make a payment agreement.
When I can’t get into an arrearage forgiveness program, can I make an agreement with my utility to avoid a shutoff or get service turned back on?
You have a right to a “reasonable” payment agreement to pay the utility what you owe them. A payment agreement lets you:
- Pay off what you owe,
- Avoid a shutoff, or
- Have service turned back on if the utility shut it off.
Payment agreements must take into account what you can afford to pay. They must also allow you to take advantage of energy assistance (apply for energy assistance every winter). If your financial situation changes, the payment agreement can be changed.
If you owe money to the utility company, try to get into an arrearage forgiveness program. If you can’t get into an arrearage forgiveness program, then work with the utility to try to make a payment agreement. You can use these worksheets to figure out what you can afford to pay.
Important! You must be low income to qualify for this kind of agreement.
The Utility Payment Worksheet helps you figure out how much your monthly payment should be. Sometimes the utility company asks you to pay more. This worksheet helps you know if the company asked for too much.
The Income/Expense Worksheet helps you figure out how much you can afford to pay.
These worksheets will give you an estimate of your monthly payments, including any energy assistance.
Reminder: Check your utility bill every year to make sure you do not owe more than the year before. If you do, you need to make a new agreement.
If you cannot make a payment, or your payment will be late, call the utility company right away. It is easier to keep service on than get it turned back on after it was shut off.
When you call:
- Give your account number.
- Ask to speak to someone about making a payment agreement. Write down the name of the person you talk to and the date you talk.
- Tell the person you speak to if someone in your home has a life-threatening condition where it would be dangerous not to have utility service, or is seriously ill, or there is a baby under 24 months old with hospital discharge papers saying utility service is needed for the baby.
- If utility service is shut off, ask for help to get it turned back on as soon as possible.
- You have a better chance to work out your agreement if you are calm and explain your situation carefully.
Talk with your utility company about these things:
Arrearage forgiveness program
- You may be eligible if:
- The utility company provides your heat and you get or applied for energy assistance for this winter , or
- You are trying to make a payment agreement with CL&P or UI
- Ask how much the utility company wants you to pay each month. If you cannot afford the monthly payment, ask your utility company to lower the amount. You can get a referral to a social service agency to see if you qualify for lower payments if the utility provides your heat.
- If you are not eligible for arrearage forgiveness, use the worksheets in this article to figure out what you can afford. Offer to pay that amount and tell them why.
Back utility bills
Tell the company how much you will pay each month for the back money you owe. And tell them when you will make your payments.
Note: Only agree to a payment you can afford. If you cannot make an agreement, you should appeal. See below.
Promise to pay on time
You should promise the utility company that you will:
- Make your payments on time, including winter payments
- Let them know if a payment will be late
- Apply for winter energy assistance on time (Call Infoline at 2-1-1 to find out how to do this)
What to do if service is shut off
- Ask the utility company to turn your service back on if it is shut off. Ask them how long that will take.
When you make an agreement
Write down any agreement you make including:
- How much you will pay each month
- When each payment is supposed to be made
- If your service is shut off, when the utility will turn it back on
- Anything else you agreed to such as applying for energy assistance
- Keep a list of all payments you make and when you make them
Follow these steps in order:
1. Call the utility company. If you have a shut-off notice, it is best to call the utility before the shutoff date. Ask to talk to a “company review officer.” If they won’t let you talk to an officer, go to Step 3.
Sometimes they ask you to speak to a supervisor first. You can insist on speaking to a review officer, but there is no harm in also speaking to a supervisor. If you cannot make an agreement, keep insisting on speaking to a company review officer. Get the review officer’s name.
When you talk to the officer, say exactly what you offered to pay the utility company. Try to work out a payment you can afford.
2. If you cannot make an agreement with the company review officer, tell the review officer you want a written report.
3. Within 5 days after you receive the review officer’s report, or if the utility will not let you talk to the review officer, you can appeal to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
- Call PURA at: 1-800-382-4586. Ask for the Consumer Assistance Unit. (If you broke your agreement in the last year, PURA may not help you, unless you had a good reason.)
- Tell PURA what you can afford to pay. They will try to work out a payment agreement. Tell them if your utility service is shut off. They will also try to get your service turned on.
- If PURA cannot work out an agreement, tell them to send a written report to you and the utility company.
4. If PURA's report does not solve the problem, you can ask for a hearing. You must ask for a hearing in writing within 10 days of the date that PURA mailed its report. You can use this sample letter as a guide.
Mail your request to:
10 Franklin Square
New Britain, CT 06051
Important! The utility cannot shut off your service while you are following this procedure and appealing if you pay your current bills. Make sure you follow all deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you can still appeal but the utility company may shut off your service if it doesn’t know you are appealing.
PURA will send you a letter giving you the date, time and location of the hearing. The hearing is your chance to explain what you offered the utility. You can say the payment you can afford and how you figured the amount. Bring your worksheets. The utility will also explain its position. PURA will make a decision and mail you a copy.
If you do not agree with PURA's decision, you can appeal to court. At this point, if you have not already done so, it’s best to ask a lawyer for help.
Consumer Assistance Unit (PURA)
10 Franklin Sq., New Britain, CT 06051
Call: 1-800-382-4586 or 860-827-2622
Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC)
10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051
Statewide Legal Services:
860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown)
800-453-3320 (all other areas)
If you need information to apply for energy assistance, call or visit:
- Infoline — Call: 211 or www.infoline.org
- Department of Social Services Energy Hot Line: 1-800-842-1132
- Your local Community Action Agency
- Energy Assistance website: www.ct.gov/staywarm
Free weatherization and conservation help is available for low income homeowners and renters. If you need information to apply, call or visit:
- Your local Community Action Agency. Call Infoline: 2-1-1 to find your local agency.
- Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund program for CL&P and UI customers, called Home Energy Solutions – Income Eligible. CL&P: 1-800-388-9727; UI: 1-877-947-3873.
- Municipal electric company customers:
- Bozrah - 860-889-7388
- Groton - 860-446-4000
- Jewett City - 860-376-2955
- Norwich - 860-823-4514
- South Norwalk - 203-866-3366
- Norwalk Third Taxing District - 203-866-9271
- Wallingford - 203-294-2263
If you are deaf or hearing impaired and need help, call:
- Infoline (TDD) --1-800-203-1234
- Relay Connecticut – Call: 711 (English and Spanish) or
- Commission on the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
Call for interpreting and other services.
TTY / voice: 860-231-8756 or 800-708-6796
This pamphlet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of CT in cooperation with CT Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services.
The information in this pamphlet is based on laws in Connecticut as of November 2011. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. If you need further help and have not done so already, please call Statewide Legal Services (see above) or contact an attorney.
Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).
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