The state of California has implemented new regulations to reduce the number of utility disconnections. The state is currently focused on addressing Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison customers, as both of those energy providers have a higher rate of disconnections than others in the state.
Low income customers can benefit from a decision that was recently made by The California Public Utility Commission. The government organization worked closely with The Utility Reform Network, National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, and the Center for Accessible Technology to create these new laws and regulations.
The main goal of the new regulation is to protect the safety and health of low income customers who are faced with a financial hardship or emergency, including low income families with children, disabled, and seniors. Several key measures have been put into place to help ensure that fragile low-income customers are not prematurely disconnected. Every resource needs to be provided to offer customers the opportunity to get back on track with paying their utilities, and to prevent the shut off. Additional laws will ensure that people are not mistakenly disconnected, and that their power, heat and air conditioning is not shut off.
California is requiring that Southern California Edison as well as Pacific Gas and Electric low income customers are provided the ability to pay their energy bills and maintain service. These utility companies need to provide increased flexibility for at-risk customers, with a focus on those who are most at risk.
The California Public Utility Commission will ensure that the following regulations are followed. If they are not, both energy providers could be fined by the state.
Certain customer’s utilities will not manually or remotely be disconnected without a precautionary in person site visit from the utility company. This visit is required for people who are on life support, the Medical Baseline rate, or those who can self-certify a serious illness or life threatening condition that might result from disconnection of their power.
All people who are faced with disconnections, regardless of their background or personal situation, are provided the ability to speak to a live customer service representative to get help with enrolling in the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) financial assistance program.
All utility company across California have an incentive to work with customers to limit shut offs.
Disabled customers need to be provided a form of communication that is acceptable to them.
Both PGE and SCE can’t charge Family Electric Rates Assistance and CARE low-income customers a fee for the reestablishment of credit deposit before reconnecting service.
All customers need to be offered a payment plan. Anyone who is struggling, or considered low income, is required by California to be offered a payment plan of at least 3 months. This is available for people who are faced with a shut off.
The re-establishment of a credit deposit from the customer can’t be required on basis of bankruptcy filing alone. The only exception that is allowed to be made by the utility is when a customer has a history of fraud or bad check writing.
Any customer service representative from PG&E or SCE needs to be offered the ability to enroll in the low-income discount program, which is formally known as the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE). The utility company can’t contact the customer in an automated format, but rather a live representative needs to make the phone call to advise customers.
Credit deposits for late payment of bills can’t be collected.
The utilities need to inform any customer that owes on their account, or any type of arrearage on a utility bill, or payment plans. If someone is facing disconnection then they have the right to at minimum a 3 month payment plan. In some cases the plan may be extended for up to 12 months.
Energy companies are limited when it comes to deposits. They are not allowed to collect excessive funds, and it needs to be twice the average monthly bill and it can’t be twice the maximum monthly bill.
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