Rights of Utility Customers
Rights of Utility Customers
This article describes common problems customers may have with their utilities, including their bills or service for gas, electricity, and water. Other kinds of fuel, such as oil, kerosene, coal, propane, and wood are not utilities.
Click on a topic:
- Rights of Utility Customers
- Security Deposits
- Credit Requirements
- Billing Records
- Estimated Billings
- High Or Inaccurate Bills
- Why Your Bill May Seem High
- Programs That Protect You From Shutoffs
- What If My Landlord Asks That The Utility Service Be Shut Off?
- Shutoffs When A Landlord Is Responsible For The Bill
- Shutoffs When A Spouse Or Ex-Spouse Is Responsible For The Bill
- Shutoffs Or Billing Disputes When Your Roommate Or Former Tenant Is Responsible
- Tips For Contacting Your Utility Company
- Steps To Solve Disagreements With A Utility Company
- Where To Get Help with A Utility Problem
- How to Apply for Weatherization
Some utility companies are private. Others are municipal – that means they are owned by a local government. Private companies include: CL&P, UI, Yankee Gas, SCG and CNG. Norwich Public Utilities is a municipal company. Because there are different rules for private and municipal utilities, it’s important for you to know what kind of company your utility is.
CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG cannot charge you a security deposit if you cannot afford to pay one.
Municipal utility companies and delivered fuel dealers, such as oil or propane, can charge security deposits. If your municipal utility or delivered fuel dealer requires a security deposit, and you receive cash assistance from the Department of Social Services (DSS) (TFA, SAGA or State Supplement), DSS will pay your deposit, up to $200.
CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG may require you to provide two IDs within 15 days of opening your account. They usually require two of these:
- Social security card,
- Connecticut driver's license,
- ID card issued by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles,
- Passport or government alien card, or
- Other federal, state or town issued IDs, and IDs approved by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
You – the customer – decide which two forms of identification to give the utility, but one must have your picture.
If you are a new customer and you do not give them proof of your ID within 15 days, they can shut off your service. But first, they must send you a written notice saying your service will be shut off.
If you are a continuing customer, they cannot shut off your service for not giving them an ID.
Whether you are a new or continuing customer, utility companies cannot require you to give credit information. However, any electric, gas, water or telephone utility, including municipal utilities, can tell credit rating agencies when you are behind at least 60 days in paying your bill. They have to give you 30 days notice by mail if they are going to do this. And they can’t report you if you have made a complaint to the utility about your bill that hasn’t been addressed or appealed to PURA.
CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG utility companies must give you a free copy of your most recent 15 months of utility bills if you ask for it.
Municipal utility companies do not have this rule.
You may need your records if you want to set up a payment plan because you owe a back utility bill. See How to Keep Utilities on All Year for more information.
CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG and private water companies must get an actual reading from your meter whenever possible. If they cannot take a reading, they will ask you to do it. They will tell you how.
If two bills in a row are based on an estimate, the next bill must be based on an actual reading. The utility will tell you when the next meter reading is scheduled. This gives you the chance to have the utility company read your meter. If you do not allow them to read your meter, they can shut off your service.
Meter readings are cumulative. This means that you will not be overcharged for your utility service when there are estimated bills as long as you then get a bill based on an actual meter reading. If an estimated bill was too high, the actual meter reading will have a reduced bill.
If you ask, CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG and private water companies will notify another person or organization if they plan to shut off your service. That person or organization is called a “third party.” If you ask, some companies will also send copies of all of your bills to a third party.
If it’s hard for you to read or pay your bills, having a third party can be a big help. Choose someone you know and trust to be your third party. Or ask your utility company if they have a list of organizations that have agreed to be third parties.
Sometimes meters break down and do not measure correctly.
Newer electronic meters that break may show more or less service than you actually used. If your meter measured more service than you used, your utility should credit your account for the overcharge.
Older mechanical meters that break usually show less service than you actually used. If this happens, the utility will:
- estimate how much service was used and bill you for that amount, or
- get a reading, then send you a bill for past service.
Important! Unless you are responsible for the inaccurate billings, the utility cannot bill you for more than the past 6 months or 3 billing periods, whichever is longer.
Sometimes bills are high because:
- An appliance is not working properly. The owner of the appliance is responsible for fixing it. If your landlord owns the defective appliance, fixture, etc., the landlord must get it fixed. If you rent the appliance from the utility, the utility must fix it. If you own the appliance, you must fix or replace it. If the wiring or plumbing is defective, this is the building owner’s responsibility to fix.
- Your meter is connected to service in another apartment or shared area in your apartment building. This is not legal. You can ask the utility company to put the bill in your landlord's name or to deduct a reasonable amount from your bill for the service that is going to other areas. The company will give a reasonable estimate. You should not estimate on your own.
- Your gas, electric or water meter is not accurate and a meter test has not been done within one year. You can ask the company to do a meter test. You can watch the test, if you want to. Ask the company to send you a copy of the test results. (Municipal utilities may have different testing procedures.)
- You are using a lot of utility service. Apply for free weatherization help available to low income homeowners and renters, to reduce your energy bills.
There are laws and programs that protect you from utility shut-offs when you are responsible for the utility bill:
- there are limits on the days and times utility service can be shut off and requirements that the utility tell you when it plans to shut off service;
- if you are a “hardship” case there are protections during the winter (November 1 to May 1);
- if the life of someone in the household would be in danger without utility service, there are protections all year long;
- if there is a baby under 24 months old that was hospitalized and needs to have utility services at home, there are protections all year long.
There are also energy assistance and special payment programs available to electric and gas utility customers. And every customer has a right to a reasonable payment agreement when they owe their electric or gas company money.
See How to Keep Utilities on All Year for more information regarding utility shut offs and payment agreements. See Energy Assistance for Low-Income Households for more information on energy assistance.
CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG and private water companies cannot shut off your service at the landlord’s request, unless:
The landlord gives the utility a statement signed by you agreeing to have utility service shut off. You should never agree to have your utility service shut off while you still live in your apartment or home.
The landlord provides the utility a signed, notarized statement that there are no tenants in the house or apartment. If the landlord is not the utility customer, the utility must send you a notice at least 9 days before the shut off.
If you get a notice that your service will be or has been shut off at your landlord's request, call the utility and ask them to turn your service back on. If the utility bill was in your name before the shutoff, it should stay in your name. But if the landlord or someone else is responsible for the bill, do not agree to have the bill put in your name.
A utility cannot shut off your service if your landlord is responsible for the bill, unless the company mails you notice by regular mail 13 days before or by certified mail 7 days before its plan to shut off service. The notice must include:
- the date of the planned shutoff,
- phone number and address of the utility company and the PURA, and
- what you can do to avoid a shutoff.
Separate Meter: If your apartment or house has its own separate meter that only covers your utility use, the utility can require you to put service in your name. If you do this, they cannot charge you a security deposit, and you do not have to pay any of the back utility bills owed by your landlord.
Shared Meter: If your apartment or home has a shared (master) meter that covers more than your utility use, you have 3 possibilities:
1. If all tenants agree in writing, service can be put in everyone's names, with an agreed upon plan for dividing the bill and responsibility for payment. If at least one tenant is making his/her payment under this kind of plan, service cannot be shut off. Any tenant or the utility can end this arrangement at any time, for any reason, by requesting in writing that it be ended.
2. You can get service in your name and only pay the part of the bill estimated to cover your service. The utility company can give you this estimate. The landlord is responsible for any portion of the bill that you did not pay because it was not for your utility service.
3. If you do not agree to either option above, or you agreed but then told the utility you wanted to end the arrangement, the utility cannot shut off your service. It can sue the landlord and ask the court to appoint a “receiver” who would collect rent and pay the utility bills.
Note: If you pay the utility company under any of the above options, you can deduct the full amount of your payments from your rent.
A utility can charge you for service that you and a spouse received from them, even if the bill is in your spouse's name. If you and your spouse have started (or completed) a divorce, legal separation, or annulment, CL&P, UI, SCG, CNG and YG and private water companies cannot shut off or refuse to provide you service for 90 days from the date you ask for service in your name. If the court says that your ex-spouse is solely responsible for the bill, you can extend this for another 90 days.
To get these extensions, you must:
- be separated from your spouse,
- give the utility copies of court judgments or copies of the court “Complaint” that shows your case is in court, and
- cooperate with the utility’s efforts to collect the bill from your ex-spouse. Usually, that means giving them your ex-spouse’s home and work address. The utility must try to collect the old bill from your ex-spouse. If it cannot collect from your ex-spouse, then it must offer you a reasonable payment agreement that allows you to pay the old bill over time.
If you were not married to your roommate, you are not responsible for the utility bill, unless:
- The bill was in your name, or
- You asked for service under the name of someone who is not an adult or who did not agree to be responsible for the utility bill, or
- Service was left in the name of a resident or roommate who moved out, and you moved in or stayed in the apartment and became the adult responsible for paying the utility bill. In this case, you are responsible for the utility bill only after the former resident moved out and you moved in, or after your roommate moved out.
When you call:
- Give your account number.
- Ask to speak to someone about the problem you have. Write down the name of the person you talk to and the date you talk.
If service is shut off or there is a threat to shut off service, 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.
Write down any agreement you make including:
- What the utility agrees to do
- What you agree to do
- If your service is shut off, when the utility will turn it back on
Follow these steps in order for problems with utility companies, except for shut-offs where you cannot afford to pay your whole bill. For those shut-off problems, follow the steps in How to Keep Utilities on All Year. Municipal utilities may have other procedures – contact them and ask for a copy of their procedures.
1. Call the utility company. If you have a shutoff notice, it is best to call the utility before the shutoff date. Explain the problem and how you would like the problem resolved.
2. If you cannot make an agreement, ask to talk to the “company review officer.”
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.
Explain your problem. If your problem includes money you owe the utility, ask the review officer if you can make a payment plan, in addition to whatever else is needed to fix the problem. If you cannot reach an agreement with the company review officer, tell the review officer you want a written report.
3. Within 10 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 and ask for the Consumer Assistance Unit or write them a letter. (You can use this sample PURA letter as a guide.)
- Tell PURA what problem is and ask them to investigate it. They may try to work out an agreement. Tell them if your utility service is shut off. They may 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 the PURA investigation and report do not solve your problem, ask PURA for a hearing in writing within 10 days of the date PURA mailed its report. (You can use this sample PURA letter as a guide.)
Mail your request to:
10 Franklin Square
New Britain, CT 06051
Important! The utility can not 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.
5. PURA will send you a letter giving you the date, time and location of the hearing. The hearing is your chance to explain the problem and your position. The utility will also explain its position. PURA will make a decision and mail you a copy.
If you do not agree with the DPUC'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)
How to Apply for Energy Assistance
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 or800-708-6796
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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