#CallUtilitiesNow – PUC Urges Consumers to Contact Utilities About Affordability Options as Annual Winter Utility Termination Moratorium Approaches an End
Published on 3/18/2022
Filed under: Electric Gas Telecommunications Water and Wastewater
Utilities Can Provide At-Risk Consumers with Options to Address Past-Due Balances, Manage Utility Bills and Avoid Spring Terminations
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) continues urging consumers still struggling with past-due balances on their utility bills to #CallUtilitiesNow to discuss options to help them remain connected to vital utility services before the annual winter termination moratorium comes to a seasonal end on March 31st.
The PUC emphasized that direct conversations between customers and utilities are the best “first step” for any Pennsylvania household or business that is struggling, whether those financial difficulties are related to the COVID pandemic, the ongoing state and national recovery, or other challenging circumstances.
Winter Terminations in Pennsylvania
Between December 1st and March 31st, Pennsylvania has special rules for winter utility terminations for income-qualified households served by utilities under PUC jurisdiction. During this seasonal termination moratorium, eligible households cannot have electric, natural gas or heat-related water service turned off for non-payment unless the utility receives permission from the PUC. There are exceptions to winter termination rules, including if the utility suspects fraud, tampering with meters, or has other public safety concerns.
As we approach the end of the annual winter termination moratorium, utilities will begin reaching out to customers who are at-risk – using bill reminders, letters, phone calls, termination notices, PUC-approved shutoff forms, and/or in-person visits. If a customer’s service is shut off, the utility must provide a notice indicating why the service was shut off and what steps the customer can take to restore their service.
The PUC emphasizes that the best action any at-risk consumer can take right now is to call their public utility’s customer service hotline and ask for information about their customer assistance programs designed to make energy bills more affordable. Utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities for income-qualified consumers – including utility-run Customer Assistance Programs (CAP), national programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and various hardship fund programs operated by utilities and non-profit organizations.
Utilities also can help enroll consumers in assistance programs, guide them to other available resources and discuss new payment plan options to address overdue balances and help consumers move forward.
Each major utility has a team of representatives trained to help consumers explore the many options that may be available and connect those families with the necessary resources. If a consumer is unable to resolve an issue or obtain needed information from the utility, they may contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) toll free at 1-800-692-7380.
Additionally, the PUC notes that consumers may also contact Pennsylvania’s “211” system (Dial 211 or visit www.pa211.org) for information and resources in their communities to help with utilities, housing, food, employment and more.
At-Risk Consumers and Businesses in Pennsylvania
According to the most recent utility reports submitted to the PUC, a combined total of approximately 713,000 residential accounts are at-risk of termination, including electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications. That figure is down from approximately 866,000 one year ago (an 18% reduction), and an even more substantial decrease from an October 2020 “COVID-19” peak of almost 1.1 million past-due residential accounts.
The past-due balance for those residential accounts is approximately $649 million, compared to more than $816 million at this time last year (down 20%), and a peak of $849 million reported in March 2021.
Additionally, nearly 76,000 small businesses across the state are at-risk of termination, down from more than 89,000 one year ago (a 15% reduction). The past-due balance for those commercial accounts is $107 million, compared to just over $108 million one year ago and a peak of almost $140 million reported in February 2021.
While the number of utility accounts at-risk of termination has continued to decline, as has the total dollar amount owed, a substantial number of households and businesses remain at-risk of utility shut-offs. The PUC urges those residents and businesses to reach out to their utilities immediately to explore available assistance and payment plan options.
PUC Continues Encouraging Energy Efficiency & Conservation
Even as warmer spring weather arrives, the PUC continues reminding families to explore energy conservation to help manage bills and reduce energy usage. PAPowerSwitch, as well as the PUC’s website for natural gas shopping, PAGasSwitch, have interactive information and tips for saving energy.
About the PUC
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.
For recent news releases and video of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.pa.gov. Follow the PUC on Twitter – @PA_PUC for all things utility. “Like” Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Facebook for easy access to information on utility issues.
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