The country is being ravaged by record cold as calendar year 2018 kicks off. It is below average temperature from the south all the way through the Midwest as well as Northeast. Even some western parts of the country are facing extreme cold weather and wind chill. Unfortunately what all this means is that many households are facing extremely high utility bills, in particular with their heating costs.
While there will be longer term ramifications to this, especially as families get their energy bills in late January, February, etc. the fact is for anyone who is receiving a bill now and they can’t pay it then they may have some options available to them right now. There may not be a need to panic.
First of all many utility companies are postponing any disconnections. So they will not turn off say heat or electric during this record 2018 cold spell. Or they may still have the ability to shut off service, but there are a number of steps they need to go through before doing so.
Energy companies are often doing this on their own, as quite frankly many do not want the bad publicity for turning off heat during the cold weather. As it could even kill some of the more vulnerable people out there, namely senior citizens, the sick, children, or disabled. So if you are struggling to keep up with paying your bills during this time frame, or fear a disconnection, call your energy company and ask them what their policy is.
Just imagine if say a utility company, such as Duke Energy in North Carolina, turned off the heat to an 80 year old senior citizen in the mountains of North Carolina. And then that elderly person freezes to death and the story goes viral of some social network. That would be horrible PR for the company, and they do not want that publicity. That same concept could apply to any energy company in any part of the state.
Not only may the utility company be taking action on their own, but there may also be government regulations that come into play. This is particularly true of the “cold-weather” states in the Midwest as well as northeast. For example, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states have rules around temperature; customer age; notices; and more around disconnections.
Regulations may not only be in place for cold weather, but also year round. This is because utility companies are regulated by states. The legislature as well as government for each state will set rules around what can or can’t be done. If they break them, then lawsuits can result. Find a listing of utility regulations for disconnections that each state has in place.
While those disconnection policies are for the here and now (say the 2018 cold spell) it does not negate the fact that the utility bill will still need to be paid. So customers, especially those that are living paycheck to paycheck, may be faced with higher bills during the next billing cycle in February, March, etc.
In these cases we recommend asking your provider for a payment plan. Or inquire into a balanced billing option, which may level set your bill over the course of 12 months or so. There are some long term programs available as well, and find more details on utility bill help here.