Electric and Natural Gas Utility Service
New York State law and the New York State Public Service Commission's regulations provide a wide range of consumer protections regarding electric and natural gas utility service. The New York State Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA) ensures that residential customers receive fair treatment from their service provider whether they purchase their energy supply from their utility or from an Energy Service Company (ESCO). This page provides a plain-language description of the consumer protections in the following areas:
- shut-off of service
- final termination notice
- if your landlord pays for electric or gas service
- special protections regarding shut-offs
- medical emergencies
- elderly, blind or disabled
- cold weather period of November 1 to April 15
- third party notification
- service reconnection
- deferred payment agreements
- down payments
- broken agreements
- budget or levelized payment plans
- late payment charges
If you fail to pay overdue bills, your utility may turn off your service after it has given you notice in writing (Final Termination Notice) that it plans to do so, and has waited 15 days to allow you an opportunity to pay the overdue bill or establish a payment agreement on the overdue amount. Utilities can shut off your service only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday through Thursday. Your service cannot be shut off for non-payment on public holidays, the day before a holiday, days when the business office of your service provider is closed or during the two-week period around Christmas and New Year's Day.
Final Termination Notice
If you have not paid a bill, payment agreement installment or deposit payment, your utility must send you a Final Termination Notice before it can disconnect your service. The notice must state the reasons for the intended shutoff, the earliest date on which a shutoff might occur, the address and phone number of your utility, and your rights under HEFPA. This notice can be sent 20 days after the date the payment was due. After the notice has been sent to you, the utility must allow 15 days for you to resolve the problem before it can shut off your service. If you make the payment by a check that is rejected by the bank, your utility can shut off service without sending another notice.
If Your Landlord Pays for Electric or Natural Gas Service
If you live in an apartment building or a multi-family house and your landlord fails to pay the utility or ESCO bill for the building, your service provider has to notify you of the landlord's non-payment and its intention to shut off service. Your service provider must:
- Post notices regarding the intended shut off in public areas of the building at least 15 days before service termination.
- Mail a separate notice at least 18 days before shut off to tenants in an apartment building or 15 days before shut off to tenants in a two-family house.
- Provide at least 30 days notice if your service is heat-related and the intended shut off will occur during the cold weather period of November 1 and April 15.
The notice will tell you how to contact your service provider so that it can help you and other tenants work out a way to avoid service disconnection, even if the landlord refuses to make payments. The notice will also inform tenants that the PSC will be available to assist them in making payment arrangements with the service provider.
An option available to tenants to avoid service disconnection is for them to pay current utility/ESCO bills directly and deduct the payments from their rent payments. This is allowed by State law, and your service provider can help you with this option.
|Special Shut-off Protections|
HEFPA provides special protections and shut off procedures for circumstances where customer health and safety may be threatened by lack of service. These protections against service shut off for non-payment of bills apply to all customers during the cold weather period between November 1 and April 15 and to customers with medical emergencies or who are elderly, blind or disabled.
When your utility is notified by your doctor or the local Board of Health that a medical emergency exists which will be aggravated by the lack of electric or gas service, your service provider must keep your service on for 30 days. The notification may be made by phone, but must be followed within five business days by written certification, which includes required identification information of the certifying authority. This certification must be submitted on stationery of the medical doctor or local board of health, signed by the medical doctor or an official if the local board of health (including their name, address and State registration number), and the name and address of the seriously ill person including the nature of their serious illness or medical condition. This certificate may be renewed for an additional 30 days if your doctor or the local board of health explains why the emergency service is still needed and indicates the length of time the condition is expected to last. You must also show why you are unable to pay your utility bill. If your medical condition is chronic, a longer time period can be arranged.
If the electric or gas service is required to operate a life-support system, the medical certificate remains in effect until terminated by the PSC. However, every three months, you must show your provider why you can't pay your bill. Your provider will code your account to ensure service is maintained at your residence.
During a period of medical emergency, you are expected to make a reasonable effort to pay the utility/ESCO charges. PSC staff will help you work out reasonable payment arrangements to ensure that you don't owe a large amount at the end of the medical emergency. If the emergency ends and you have not made arrangements to pay your bills, your provider can begin procedures to shut off your service. Your provider must follow all appropriate HEFPA rules such as notifying you at least 15 days before the intended shut off date to give you time to make arrangements to pay your outstanding charges.
Elderly, Blind or Disabled
If your service provider is aware that you and all adults living with you are 62 years of age or older, blind or disabled, and all remaining residents of the household are 18 years of age or under, it will make special attempts to contact you by phone or in person, at least three days before a scheduled service shut off in order to help you keep your utility service on. Your provider will try to work with you to develop a payment agreement or obtain payment from the local Department of Social Services or a private organization. If arrangements cannot be made, the provider will notify the local Department of Social Services of the possible service shutoff, and continue service for another 15 business days.
In cases where your service is shut off after the procedures identified above have been followed, your provider will make another attempt to contact you or another adult resident within 10 days after your service has been terminated. The service representative will try to determine whether alternative arrangements for service have been made and, if not, work with you to develop a plan that would restore service and arrange for payment on the bills you owe.
If you qualify for the elderly, blind or disabled protections, you should immediately notify your service provider so it can code your account with this information should it be needed in the future. This information will be kept in strict confidence.
Cold Weather Protections - November 1 to April 15
During the cold weather period of November 1 to April 15, your service provider must make a special effort to determine if shutting off your heat-related service will cause a problem to the health and safety of you or members of your household.
Your Provider Will Contact You:
- At least three days before the scheduled shut off, your service provider will attempt to contact you or another adult in your home by telephone during normal business hours. If unsuccessful, your provider will attempt to reach you by telephone during non-business hours (6 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). If unsuccessful reaching you by telephone, your provider will attempt to contact you in person.
- On the day of service shut off, the service provider shall attempt to contact, in person, you or an adult resident in your home.
During the Telephone Call and/or Site Visit:
- Your service provider will fully explain the reasons for the shut off, provide you with information about protections under HEFPA and work with you to arrange a payment arrangement to cover the overdue charges.
- Your provider will attempt to determine if any resident in your home is likely to suffer serious impairment to health and safety as a result of terminating your heat-related service.
- If your service provider determines that shutting off your heat-related service could cause serious harm to the health or safety of any resident in your home, it must notify the local Department of Social Services which will conduct its own investigation. Following this referral, your provider cannot shut off your service for another 15 days unless informed by Social Services that their investigation determined that harm is unlikely or that an alternate means of protecting your health and safety has been devised. However, you will be responsible for payment of the continued service.
- If the utility finds that you may be unable to protect yourself from neglect or hazardous situations, it will notify an agency, such as your local Department of Social Services, to help you, and continue your heat-related service for at least another 15 business days.
- If your provider determines that harm is unlikely, it can begin shut off procedures following appropriate HEFPA rules.
If Your Provider Cannot Reach You:
- If your provider cannot reach you, your service may be shut off. Following this shut off, your provider will attempt to determine whether anyone is living in your residence and if so, whether there might be serious harm to that person's health or safety.
For situations where harm may result, the service provider will restore service for 15 business days and notify the local Department of Social Services so that they can investigate.
As a residential customer, you can select a "third party," such as a relative or friend, to receive all notices relating to service termination or other service provider credit actions relating to your account, provided that the third party agrees in writing to accept those notices.. This is an especially valuable protection for consumers who are unable to fully understand company notices. Third-party designation can be very useful if you have a relative or friend you can rely on to help you out. However, the third party is not responsible for paying your bills.
If your service has been shut off for non-payment, the utility must turn service back on within 24 hours, where possible, in the following situations:
- you have paid the amount due or signed a payment agreement and made the down payment, if required,
- the local Department of Social Services agrees to make a direct payment on your behalf or provides a written guarantee of payment,
- the service provider is notified that serious harm to health or safety is likely to result if service is not reconnected, or
- the PSC directs the service provider to restore service.
|Deferred Payment Agreements|
Payment Agreement Terms -
If you have a financial problem that prevented you from paying previous bills, you can make a deferred payment agreement, which is a written agreement between you and the service provider that will allow you to pay the overdue amount in reasonable installments over a specified period of time. However, the service provider can refuse to offer you a payment agreement when it believes you can pay the amount you owe, and after its own investigation, the PSC also determines that you have the ability to pay what you owe.
While your provider may offer you specific payment agreement terms, you do not have to accept what it proposes. You can write your own payment terms. However, these terms must be based upon your ability to make payments on what you owe as well as full payments on your current bills. Your provider must accept any terms you propose which are fair and equitable, considering your financial circumstances; however, it can refuse any terms where you would be paying less than $10 a month on what you owe. To help determine how much you can afford, you may be required to complete a financial statement and supporting documentation, all of which will be treated as confidential.
Should your financial situation change due to circumstances beyond your control, at your request, your provider will modify your agreement to make sure that the terms are reasonable.
Based on your financial circumstances, the agreement between you and your service provider may allow for any size down payment or no down payment at all. Unless you agree otherwise, down payments may be no more than 15% of the amount you owe, or the cost of one-half of your average monthly bill, whichever is greater.
For example, if you owe $400 and your average monthly bill is $50, 15% of what you owe is $60 and one-half of your average bill is $25. Therefore, the largest down payment which the provider can require is the greater of the two, or $60.
If you fail to make timely payments on your payment agreement, your provider can cancel the agreement and take action to have your service shut off. At least eight days before it starts the process to have your service shut off, your provider must send you a reminder notice stating that you have not kept current in your agreement payments, and offer you an opportunity to make those payments current. If you can demonstrate that you are unable to make payments because your financial situation has changed due to circumstances beyond your control, you should notify your provider and arrange for new terms. However, if you have not made a payment nor negotiated a new payment agreement 20 days after the payment was due, your provider may demand full payment of the total outstanding charges and issue a final notice of termination.
Consumers who wish to spread their gas or electric bills evenly over a 12-month period may wish to consider levelized payment plans, also known as budget plans. Energy utilities and ESCOs are required to offer such a plan to residential customers. Budget billing helps even out bills that are high in one season and low in another so that your energy charges stay pretty much the same throughout the year. It does not reduce your overall energy expenses for the year, but it does help you manage your budget. Your utility can provide more information about its balanced billing program.
If 20 days have passed since a bill payment was due and you have not paid your bill, the utility can add to your next bill a late payment charge of up to 1.5% per month on the unpaid balance. You are not responsible for late fees on amounts in dispute with the utility or the PSC while that dispute is being investigated. However, if you are found to owe the amount in dispute, you will also have to pay the applicable late charges.