1 Call us for help NEED HELP? Search our website for help Statewide Legal Services UTILITIES LEGAL SERVICES SELF HELP SERIES Worried about paying your utility bills or keeping your utilities on? Help with Utility Problems August 2013 We offer free legal help in many areas including: welfare SNAP (food stamps) divorce child support domestic violence bankruptcy special education nursing home care health insurance eviction foreclosure...and more See reverse side for more about Legal Services.
2 Call us for help Search our website for help NEED HELP? Statewide Legal Services Help with Utility Problems You don't have to figure out if you qualify for help... just call 211. What help is available?... 3 Shut-offs... 4 If you get a shut-off notice... 4 Protection from shut-offs... 5 Financial help / Payment programs... 6 Hardship status... 7 What it is, who can get it... 7 Good things to know... 9 Resources Call us for help Search our website for help Connecticut Legal Services Bridgeport 211 State Street New Britain 16 Main Street New London 153 Williams Street Stamford 20 Summer Street Waterbury 85 Central Avenue Willimantic 872 Main Street Greater Hartford Legal Aid 999 Asylum Avenue Hartford, CT Statewide Legal Services or New Haven Legal Assistance Association 426 State Street New Haven, CT Consumer Law Project for Elders Free legal assistance to seniors 60 and over throughout CT who have consumer problems Legal Assistance Resource Center of CT (LARCC) Community education and public policy advocacy organization addressing issues of importance to low-income Connecticut residents. 363 Main Street, Flr. 3-1 Hartford, CT This booklet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut in cooperation with Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services. The information in this booklet is based on laws in Connecticut as of August We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice. For advice on your situation, call Statewide Legal Services or contact a lawyer. August 2013
3 Resources Utility Companies - for Payment Agreements: Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) Connecticut Natural Gas (CNG) Yankee Gas Southern CT Gas (SCG) United Illuminating (UI) Help Resolving Utility Problems: These agencies can help you resolve problems that involve: shut-offs, reconnection, installation, meter tests, reasonable payment arrangements, outages, deposits, incorrect rates, and more. Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) Consumer Assistance Unit 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT Offi ce of Consumer Counsel (OCC) 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT or Are you concerned about paying your utility bills or keeping your utilities on? This booklet tells you about help for bills for: Gas, Electricity, and Where do I call? Dial Dial 211 for help and information. This toll-free number is available all day every day of the year. Call even if you don t think your income is low enough. Different places offer help, including: state programs, utility companies, social service agencies, veteran s programs, and others. What help is available? Delivered fuel (oil, kerosene, coal, propane, pellets, and wood) You don't n Energy assistance - state and private have to programs help pay winter heating bills for figure out if low-income families and those families you qualify with slightly higher income. Call 211 to for help... see if you can get this help. just call 211. n Protection from shut-offs Winter shut-off protection keeps utilities on from November 1 through May 1. Life-threatening shut- off protection keeps utilities on all year if it would put a person s life in danger. n Financial help / payment programs (payment agreements, matching payment plans, arrearage forgiveness). n Furnace repair or replacement. n Weatherization to reduce your heating bills by making your home more energy effi cient. Weatherization can include insulation, storm windows, caulking, furnace repair, etc. n SNAP benefits (food stamps) increase. 10 Call SLS for help or Search our website for help 3
4 SHUT-OFFS If you get a shut-off notice q Call can give you the name of your local Community Action Agency (CAA). The CAA can help you negotiate an agreement you can afford, apply for energy assistance, and more. q Call your utility company. They will tell you your options (payment agreement, fuel funds, and other help). q Call your case worker if you have one. Your case worker can help you make an agreement. Don t ignore notices or bills from the utility company. q Call your town hall. Most towns have a social (or human) services department that can help you apply for energy assistance or make an agreement with the utility company. Is someone else's name on the bill? See page 6. Good Things to Know Call 211 first and early don t wait until you have a shut-off notice or are already behind in paying your bill. Apply for energy assistance every year in the fall. Call your utility company tell them what s going on, ask what options you have. Payment agreements. Don t agree to just any payment agreement. Work out what you can really afford to pay. If you can t make an agreement with the utility company that you can afford, call 211 and ask about energy assistance. Do you have a case worker? Talk to your case worker. She can help make an affordable payment agreement. Payments. Always pay your bill on time and keep making whatever payment you can even through the winter protection time. (You must be making payments to qualify for energy assistance.) Don t ignore notices or bills from the utility company. When you move, take your name off the bill or you may still be responsible for paying it. Meters. Reading meters: You must allow the utility to read your meter--or they can shut off your service. Shared meters: If you have a shared meter and the landlord won t separate them contact Consumer Assistance at PURA (see Resources on page 8). Immigrants. If you are an undocumented immigrant, you can still apply for energy assistance and have the bill in your name. 4 Call SLS for help or Search our website for help 9
5 Your rights if...your name is not on the bill LANDLORD S name on bill: Service cannot legally be shut off if the landlord does not pay the bill. If it is shut off, call the police and the utility company. SPOUSE S or EX-SPOUSE S name on bill: Service can be shut off if you live in the house -- unless your divorce /court papers say otherwise. (It doesn t matter whose name is on the bill.) Service cannot be shut off 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.) SOMEONE ELSE S name on bill: Service can be shut off if the person does not pay the bill. If the other person moved out, you need to pay the bill. Call and have the bill put in your name. Protection from shut-offs Connecticut laws prevent utility companies from shutting off service to people in special cases, including: Life-Threatening Shut-off Protection If someone s life would be in danger without utility service, the company cannot shut off your service -- in any season -- even if you owe them money. Call your utility company. You must show proof from a doctor that utilities are needed. Winter Shut-off Protection Your utilities would stay on during the winter--from November 1 to May 1 (and maybe the summer, too). The best way to avoid a shutoff is to q Make a payment agreement you can afford to keep, and q Apply each fall for hardship status. What happens when winter shut-off protection is over? If you have not made any payments during winter shut-off protection, q You may receive a shut off notice and be required to pay your entire balance to prevent the shut off. q You will be kicked off the Matching Payment Program or NUStart. Are you an undocumented immigrant? You can still apply for energy assistance and have the bill in your name. 8 Call SLS for help or Search our website for help 5
6 PAYMENT PROGRAMS Financial Help / Special Payment Programs Each utility company runs its own special payment programs. The best protection from a shut-off is a payment agreement you can afford to keep. If you are late making payments, the utility company can remove you from the program. Examples of programs include: Payment agreements Matching payment programs (you pay a portion of the bill, energy assistance pays a portion, and the utility company pays a portion) Forgiveness programs (also called arrearage forgiveness) Payment Agreements A payment agreement lets you pay off what you owe and keep your utility service on (or turn it back on). Here are some tips. u v w x 4 Things to Know about Payment Agreements Figure out what you can afford to pay before you call the utility company. Don t feel pressured into saying yes to an amount that you cannot afford. Instead, ask them to lower it. If you can t make an agreement that you can afford, Call 211 or your local community action agency and ask about energy assistance. Call your case worker if you have one. Call your town hall. Most towns have a department of social services (or human services) that can help you apply for energy assistance or make an agreement with the utility company. Once you have a payment agreement, be sure to make all your payments on time (or call the company right away). HARDSHIP STATUS What is hardship status? Hardship status means that something happening in your life makes it too hard to pay your utility bills. It could be too hard because your income is too low or a household member has a serious illness. The utility company will classify you hardship status -- then you can: Get energy assistance, and Be protected from utility shut-off. Your utilities would stay on during the winter from November 1 to May 1 (and maybe the summer, too). Will I still receive a bill? Probably. It depends on the utility company. Remember to keep making payments during the hardship period, even if it s just one or two! Who can get it? Call your utility company each fall and apply for hardship status. You can get hardship status if You get state or federal government benefi ts cash or medical. (For example, Medicaid, SSI, Social Security, Unemployment, etc.) - or- Your income is very low. (For example, income of less than $24,400 for a family of 3 or $125% of the federal poverty level.) -or- A household member is seriously ill and his life would be in danger without utility service. (You must show a proof from a doctor.) Call your utility company each fall and apply for hardship status. 6 Call SLS for help or Search our website for help 7