Consumer protection laws and regulations on heating and utility disconnections.

Most states have laws, rules, and regulations in place that determine when an electric, gas, water, or utility company may disconnect a customers service. Most of the laws put into place by states are intended to protect the elderly, families with children, disabled, and people with medical conditions. It is often illegal for a utility company to disconnect customers under certain conditions. For example, during the winter or summer disconnections are often limited as to when they can occur, as well as during extreme weather events and temperatures. Also, if a customer enters into a payment plan with their provider state laws usually regulate that a disconnection can’t occur.

Examples of state regulations - Get more information on what protections customers have in place as well as when it may be illegal to disconnect a customers utility or heating service. While the rules and regulations will vary by state, there are many common characteristics. Find some common examples of consumer rights for utility disconnections.

Additional details on specific state laws are below. However the regulations are constantly changing. Do not hesitate to ask a local non-profit community action agency, a pro-bono law firm, or your utility provider for the latest rules.

What to do if illegal disconnection

After reviewing the laws that your state may have in place to protect customers from illegal heating and utility disconnections, if you think the utility company is not following the regulation, then you can take action. All states have law firms that provide free legal advice on disconnections, and attorneys can advise you on your rights and help you get your power back on. Find free legal advice on dealing with utility and heating service disconnections.

Alabama - In addition to protecting customers when the temperature falls under 32 degrees, utility disconnections are also illegal under circumstances, such as life-threatening situation or extreme weather.

Alaska - Delay disconnection of heating and utilities for 15 days if household member is age 65 or older, seriously ill, disabled, or dependent on a life support system. Also no disconnection is allowed by state law for seriously ill, disabled, or if the customer has entered into a payment plan.

 

 

 

Arizona - Utility and power companies are advised not to terminate residential utility service when the customer has an inability to pay their bill and where weather will be especially dangerous to health, which is usually considered 32 F or below for winter and triple digits for summer. In addition, there are also rules prohibiting disconnection of service for customers for certain medical reasons.

Arkansas - Electric and gas service cannot be disconnected if the forecasted weather is for a temperature of 32 or lower during the next 24 hours. In addition, it is illegal for disconnection for elderly or disabled when temperature is >95, or if they need power for a medical emergency. No disconnection is allowed if the customer agrees to deferred or extended payment agreement with the utility company. It is now illegal to implement winter natural gas disconnections of certain low to moderate income-eligible households provided they make a minimum payment, about 50 percent of their bill. Utilities can’t disconnect service if the customer has a serious medical condition. Shut offs are limited from November to March.

California - A customer who provides a medical certification from a licensed physician and/or surgeon that  termination of their utilities will be life threatening and who is unable to pay in normal period shall be permitted to amortize their bills over a period not to exceed 12 months. Regulations ensure that if a payment plan is implemented that service can’t be disconnected. Read more on laws specifically established for Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric.

Colorado - Rules ensure that a customer with a medical certificate could postpone disconnection of their utility or heating service for up to 90 days.

Connecticut - State regulations call for a low-income "hardship" policy. This states that customers are entitled to have both electric and gas service turned on between 11/1 and 5/1, even if they owe the utility company money. Customers need to apply, and their are some conditions to this plan. In addition, gas and electric utility service must be provided year-round if a lack of power is life-threatening, regardless of debt or bills owed to the utility. In addition, a disconnection is illegal if the customer enters into a payment plan.

Delaware - Bans disconnections if the temperature is below 32 or over 105 degrees. In addition, regulations outlaw disconnection if termination of the service will adversely affect the occupant's health or if they have a medical condition. Regulations limit disconnection during the winter, from November to April.

District of Columbia - They are illegal if temperature is below 32 degrees. Also illegal if the customer has a medical condition, and disconnection of heating and utilities may be postponed for up to 21 days in this case.

Florida - Has no rules, laws, or regulations in place to protect residents.

Georgia - Rules delay disconnection of utilities for 30 days with medical certification. Also, the power or gas company cannot disconnect service unless a bill is at least 45 days overdue and proper notification has been sent. No disconnect during protection dates if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan. Also, if the temperature is going to be under 32 degrees or excessive heat, then disconnection is illegal, so shut offs are limited during both the summer and winter per state laws.

Hawaii - No protections

Idaho - No disconnection between November - March if customers agrees to payment plan, and shut-offis are limited during the hot summer months. Another law prevents the disconnection for households with children under 18, elderly age 62 or older, or infirm. Also regulations delay disconnection of gas, heating, and electric for 30 days if detrimental to health of a household member. Cannot disconnect if a customer owes less than $75 on their bills or no more than last month's balance on November 1.

Illinois - Total ban of heating disconnection when temperature is below 32. Utilities must offer payment plans of 10% down payment. Also, during summer months public utilities cannot turn off gas or electricity when the temperature forecast for the following 24 hours includes temperature at or above 95F. Utility cannot disconnect during protection dates unless it has offered a deferred payment plan and informed the customer of available government or other energy assistance funds. The state laws also call for a 30 day delay if a physician certifies that disconnect would adversely affect the health of a household member.

Indiana - Prohibits utilities from disconnecting electric or natural gas service for nonpayment of bills from December 1 to March 15 if the customer qualifies for public assistance, whether or not the customer actually receives the benefit. In addition, another law prevents the disconnection for financial hardship if the customer pays the lesser of $10 or 10% of the overdue utility or heating bill, if the customer agrees to pay the remainder within three months and agrees to pay all undisputed future bills when due. Last, a regulation postpones disconnection for 20 days if the customer presents a medical statement from a licensed physician which states that disconnection would be a serious and immediate threat to the individual.

Iowa - State law calls for a 30 day delay if physician certifies that disconnection would adversely affect the health of a household member. Another program calls for disconnection for all residential customers when <20 F. LIHEAP-certified customers have complete protection from the shut off of their service from Nov. 1 through March 31 regardless of temperature. In addition, the local utility must offer payment plan after moratorium. Those who notify their gas and electric utility that they are applying for the federal government LIHEAP certification through the local CAP agency may receive a 30 day stay from service disconnection during the moratorium period.

Kansas - Ban of heating and utility shut off when temperature is under 35, to avoid disconnection when temperature is above 35 customers must enter into a payment schedule, meet payments and apply for aid if eligible. Also the law calls for a delay in the disconnection for 20 days if the action would adversely affect the health of a household member or customer. During the delay the customer is expected to agree to a payment plan with their gas or utility company.

Kentucky - Customers in the state may negotiate a payment plan with the utility company for reconnection during the cold winter months of November through March if they are "income qualified" for certain public or government assistance programs. Also the company cannot disconnect if a payment agreement is in effect. Lastly, a rule delays disconnect of service for 30 days with medical certification.

Louisiana - Disconnection is delayed for up to 63 days if the shut off of power would be detrimental to health or safety of a household member. Customer must negotiate a payment plan before disconnect date in order to have this be effective.

 

 

 

Maine - Not permitted from November to April if eligible customer agrees to a special payment arrangement with their gas or utility company that allows the customer to pay less than the amount of each current bill during the winter months. In addition, laws call for a 30 day delay, with renewals up to 90 days, if a physician certifies that a disconnection would adversely affect the health of a customer or household member. Cannot disconnect power or gas if an overdue amount on their bill is less than $50, unless the overdue amount is more than 90 days old or the utility bills four times a year or less.

Maryland - Shut-off not allowed from November to March. Another program offered by the Utility Service Protection Program is payment plans for low-income customers that provide shut-off protection to low income customers year-round. If a household member has a serious medical condition, disconnection of their service will be delayed for 30 additional days. The customer is required to enter into a payment plan for this to take effect. Terminations are suspended for 55 days when people apply for federal government energy assistance plans.

Massachusetts - Disconnect of heating and utilities are illegal and not permitted for any customer who cannot pay an overdue charge because of financial hardship during the months of November to April. In addition, utilities and gas companies are prohibited from terminating heating and electric service to low-income households where occupants present certification that a household member is seriously ill or there is an infant under 12 months of age. Utilities in the state need written approval to shut off services where all household residents are 65 years or older. In addition, if the elderly household is low-income and includes a minor, the protection against termination will apply in these situations as well.

Michigan - Winter Protection Plan is in effect from November to March for elderly 65 years or older, recipients of Food Stamps, Medicaid, or Department of Human Services cash assistance, full time active military personnel or persons needing critical medical or health care or having a certified medical emergency. Households must be enrolled in a payment plan. In addition, year-round protection from shut-off is available to all residential customers regardless of their household income with an initial down payment of 10 percent of a customer's total utility or heating bill and a monthly budget plan. Disconnection delay is also called for of 21 days with medical certificate if health of household member would be adversely affected from the disconnection. Certification may be renewed another 42 days. Due date for utility bills extended to 22 days.

Minnesota - Protects customers both during the winter and summer. Disconnection is illegal if an advisory, or excessive heat or cold warning has been issued. Disconnect ban is also in place if customer declares inability to pay and if their household income is limited and the customer agrees to payment plan or if eligible customer pays 10% of income or the full amount of current bill (whichever is less) or if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan. Summer disconnect protection is also in effect, and a utility company may not effect an involuntary disconnection of residential services in affected counties when an excessive heat watch, heat advisory, or excessive heat warning issued by the National Weather Service is in effect. Disconnect ban if health of household member would be adversely affected, however the customer will need a medical certificate. In addition, if a payment plan is entered into, regardless of customers income, a disconnection is banned.

Mississippi - A shut-off is prohibited for customers who can prove extreme financial difficulty or who have a medical emergency and agree to payment plan with their utility or gas company.

Missouri - The state prohibits the disconnection of heat-related service during the fall and winter when the temperature is predicted to drop below 32 degrees during the following 24 hour period. A customer can have their heating service restored by making an initial payment of 50% of his/her outstanding balance or $500, whichever is less, with the deferred balance to be paid in a Cold Weather Rule payment agreement plan. In addition, the law prohibits the disconnection of registered elderly and disabled customers who meet certain income guidelines and who make a minimum payment on their bill. Another program states that the disconnect shall be postponed for 21 days due to the medical condition of an occupant .Allows customers to extend payment of preexisting arrears beyond 12 months timeframe.

Montana - A gas or utility cannot disconnect service any day when the temperature at 8 a.m. is below 32 F or if freezing temperatures are forecast for the next 24 hours for customers receiving public assistance or if household member is age 62 or older or disabled. PSC approval is needed for shut-off. This is in effect from November to April. In addition, disconnection of service is delayed if detrimental to existing medical condition.

Nebraska - No disconnect from November - March for low-income natural gas customers with proof of eligibility for energy assistance. Other parts of the rule in effect state that to have service restored between November 1 and March 31, a rate payer must make payment of one-fourth of the total arrearage that is due on their bill plus the most recent bill and enter a payment plan with the remaining arrearage paid in installments over no less than three months or as agreed between the rate payer and the utility. If a rate payer defaults on the payment plan that was put into effect, the utility may disconnect service after providing the requisite notice. Termination would be postponed 30 days if adverse effect on a resident's illness or disability; certification by licensed physician required.

 

 

 

 

Nevada - Rules are in effect if temperature is above 105 or below 15. Disconnection of their service is delayed for 30 days, with one renewal, if customer is facing medical emergency. Customer must pay their energy bill in installments within the next 90 days. Elderly and handicapped must have 48 hours notice for the disconnection. Disconnection will also be delayed if customers agrees to pay the outstanding bill in installments within the next 90 days.

New Hampshire - Approval from the state is needed to shut-off elderly customers 65 or older during November to April. Disconnection of heat and utilities service is not allowed unless arrears are more than $125 for gas non- heating, $225 for electric non-heating and more than $450 for gas, electric and steam heating. During the winter period, financial hardship customers can restore their utility and heating service with 10% down payment and an arrangement of 10% of the total due each month. Financial hardship customers can also maintain service during winter period with an arrangement of 10% of total due each month. Must allow customers to pay balance on their bills over next 6 months after winter moratorium. No disconnection is allowed if the customer agrees to and adheres to a payment plan on their outstanding bills. Disconnection is delayed 60 days with certification of medical emergency, may be renewed every 60 days as necessary. Commission approval is required for disconnection to medical emergency customers.

New Jersey - There is a ban in place on disconnection for customers receiving Lifeline, LIHEAP, TANF, SSI, PAAD or GA. The law also protects households that may be unable to pay overdue amounts on their utilities because of medical expenses, unemployment, or recent death of spouse. These plans are in effect during the winter, and summer when the temperature is above 95. Customers eligible for the Winter Termination Protection Program are placed on a budget plan and cannot be disconnected as long as they make good faith payments on their heating bills. During the heating season, a utility may not ask for a security deposit. If a customer is eligible for the Winter Termination Program, and the high temperature is forecast to be 90o or more at any time during the following 48 hours, an electric utility shall not discontinue residential service to a customer for reasons of nonpayment of a delinquent account, or failure to comply with a deferred payment agreement, or failure to pay a cash security deposit or guarantee. Another rules states that disconnection is delayed for up to two months if physician certifies that health of household member would be adversely affected from the termination of service. Customer must enter into a payment plan with their energy provider Cannot disconnect unless the customer owes more than $50 or more than three months of charges.

New Mexico - A public regulated utility or gas company in the state shall not be able to disconnect service to a residential customer for any billing cycle from November 15 through March 15 for nonpayment if the customer meets the qualifications for the low-income home energy assistance program and if the customer is current on their bills or if they have entered into a payment agreement with their provider and are current on payments under that agreement by Nov. 15. Another law states that no disconnection is allowed for seriously or chronically ill if certified by a medical professional or if the customer qualifies for assistance from Human Services, Medicaid, or a charitable organization or if customer agrees to a payment plan. In addition, the utility or gas company must attempt to make a payment plan with the customer before termination. Disconnection is prohibited if customers agrees and adheres to payment plan with their provider.

New York - Utilities must offer a payment plan suited to customer's financial situation before disconnection can proceed. In addition, the state prohibits disconnect if household has life support system and also offers 30 day delay for certified medical condition. Prohibits disconnect of service if the customer is disabled, blind, or 62 years or older and the remaining household members are 62 years or older, 18 years or under, or blind or disabled unless the utility contacts the household 72 hours prior to termination of service for the purpose of devising a pay plan. If a pay plan cannot be implemented between the customer and the provider the utility must delay termination for 15 days and request that social services assist in devising a plan. Between November 1 - April 15, all customers must be notified 72 hours before disconnection to acertain if the health and safety of a resident will be compromised. Utility cannot disconnect if a customer will suffer a serious health or safety impairment. Also, disconnections are banned around Christmas and New Years.

 

 

 

North Dakota - No disconnect is allowed by state law for customers who enter into a payment plan. In addition, utilities must delay disconnect of heating and utility service for 30 days for customers who are age 65 or older, ill, or disabled.

Ohio - The state prevents disconnection under certain conditions from October to March. Other rules state that disconnection is prohibited for Percentage of Income Plan (PIP) customers as long as they remain current with their PIPP payment. Another option, the winter reconnect order allows residential customers who are disconnected or being threatened with disconnection the opportunity to pay no more than $175 to maintain their utility or heating service. If the customer’s service has already been disconnected by this time, the customer must pay a reconnect fee of no more than $36 to restore their service. Customers who utilize the Winter Reconnect Order must enter into an extended payment plan on their remaining balance. Customers requesting new natural gas or electric services, who have no previous balance with their utility, may establish service under the winter reconnect order by paying $175, rather than paying the required security deposit. Another regulation provides for a 30 day disconnect delay if dangerous to health or if medical or life support equipment is necessary — as certified by a doctor or medical professional. If the customer has been shutoff, and the form is submitted within twenty one days of the shutoff, service is restored for the customer with the condition. Medical certification may be renewed three times in 12 months.

Oklahoma - No disconnect of utilities is allowed if temperatures are 32 F or below during the day, 20 F or below at night or if the predicted heat index is 101 F or greater during the summer. A 30 day delay and 30 day extension is possible in case of life threatening condition by the customer. The utility commission may order a ban on all disconnections if severe weather or if dangerous to health of the customer. Also, disconnection may be delayed for 30 days with medical doctor certification.

Oregon - No disconnect is allowed per state law if the customer enters into a deferred payment plan with their utility provider. In addition service shut off is prevented is the customer has a medical certificate, and that will prevent disconnection up to 6 months for non-chronic condition, up to 12 months for chronic condition and requires the customer to set up a payment plan as well.

Pennsylvania - Rules are in effect to prevent disconnections from December to March. Also no termination of utility or heating service between protection dates for customers at or below 250% of the Federal government poverty level. If a household has their energy service shut off prior to December 1, the utility company must attempt to contact the customer and attempt to negotiate an agreement regarding payment of any arrearages on their power bills and negotiate restoration of service. Other rules call for a 30 day disconnect delay with medical certificate, which may be renewed 2 times to extend the timeframe. The customer is required to negotiate a payment plan to honor this delay. No utility shall terminate or refuse to restore service if health of household member would be adversely affected, need medical certificate.

Rhode Island - Protection dates are in effect from November to March. A disconnect ban is in effect for those customers who are handicapped, elderly or seriously ill, a ban is in place for households with a child under 2 years old, and disconnection is also not allowed for those customers who are receiving unemployment compensation, federal government heating assistance or who qualify as a financial hardship or if arrears on their heating or utility bills are less than $500 for primary source of heat or less than $200 if not primary heat source. Also disconnection is not allowed in extreme heat. Utilities are also required to offer payment plans to customers in danger of disconnection. In addition, 21 day disconnect delay is called for by state law if household member is certified as seriously ill. Those customers may request an extension. All residential customers can have power restored with a down payment toward their bill.

South Carolina - Limits shut offs from December 1 to March 31. Disconnection is suspended for customers when the average forecasted temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below for a 45-hour period. In addition state law calls for a 30 day shut-off delay for seriously ill individuals with medical certificate, which can be renewed up to 3 times during the winter protection period. Also regulations in place state that disconnect is prevented if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan with their provider.

South Dakota - Disconnection is limited from November to March during the winter heating season. No disconnection is allowed if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan. Last, but not least, 30 day disconnect delay is called for if physician, doctor, or public health official or social service official certifies a medical emergency for the customer.

 

 

 

Tennessee - Utilities in the state are required to offer a payment plan, and also there is in effect a 30 day disconnect delay for customer if their physician, public health official or social service official certifies that a household member's health would be adversely affected from the loss of service. Certificates may be renewed 3 times per year.

Texas - State law requires that utility and gas companies are required to offer a deferred payment plan to families and individuals in the state. No disconnect can occur if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan for past utility or heating bills. No shut off is allowed if temperature is to go below 32 degrees, or in extreme heat. Also disconnection will be delayed if detrimental to the health of a state resident, but the customer must have physician certification to get this plan.

Utah - Shut off protection dates are in effect from November to March. In addition, the impacted customer must have a termination notice and have been refused utility service. Other conditions include the individuals must have applied for HEAT and Red Cross energy assistance and make a good faith effort to pay utility bill on a consistent basis during moratorium. Lastly, the customer must also meet at least 1 of the following criteria: have an income <150% FPG, medical heating or energy shall be provided if the customer enters into a written deferred payment plan to pay all past-due amounts on unpaid bills. State law prevents and calls for 30 day disconnect delay if detrimental to health, must have physician certification,

Vermont - No disconnect of heating, electric, or gas is allowed if temperature is less than 10 F or less than 32 F for households with elderly age 62 or older. No disconnection is allowed if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan with their provider. Also in effect is a 30 day disconnect delay if household member's health would be adversely affected, physician certificate can be renewed twice. Cannot disconnect if a customer owes less than $50, provided that this exception may not be used for more than two billing cycles in one calendar year.

Virginia - No state laws, rules, or regulations are in place.

Washington - Protection for hardship customers is offered from November to March. This is for those customers who qualify or apply for energy assistance and enter payment plans. Disconnection of heating and utility service is prohibited by rules in effect if customer agrees and adheres to a monthly payment during the winter period. The utility may not require payment of more than seven percent of the customer's monthly income. In addition disconnection is delayed for 30 days if a medical emergency exists.

West Virginia - Service can’t be disconnected for certain customers from November to March. In addition, disconnections are not allowed during protection dates are considered detrimental to the health of the customer's household and are prohibited. Electric, gas, and heating service cannot be disconnected if customer agrees and adheres to payment plan on unpaid bills. Shut off of service is also delayed for 30 days if the health of a household member is adversely affected, however this must be certified by a physician and can be renewed every 30 days if illness persists.

Wisconsin - Laws limit shut-offs from November to April. No disconnect for heating or electric is allowed during extreme weather unless last resort after all other legal means of collection have been attempted and only if : 1) income is >250% FPG; health and safety would not be endangered due to presence of elderly, small children, or mentally disabled; and utility has an approved winter disconnection plan on file. In addition, shut off of service is prohibited by regulations when heat advisory from the National Weather Service is in effect. 21 day delay for a shut off if physician, doctor, social services, public health or law enforcement officer certifies to medical or protective services (includes elderly, infants, disabled etc.) emergency. Customer must agree to payment plan during this medical emergency. Also protections are in place for customers entering payment plans; special notice and links to government assistance agencies.

 

 

 

 

 

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