Can My Utilities Be Cut Off in the Winter?

Can My Utilities Be Cut Off in the Winter?
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Last updated: February 2007

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.

Question:

I’m worried about paying my utility bill. Isn’t there a law that prevents a utility company from cutting off your power in the winter? What can they do if you can’t pay your bill?

Answer:

There are two basic limits to cutting off someone’s power under Illinois law. One applies whenever it’s cold, the other during specified “winter” months. 

The cold weather law absolutely prohibits disconnections whenever it’s cold. The winter rules restrict, but don’t absolutely prohibit, disconnections between December 1 and March 31.

The two separate laws take into account that cold and winter aren’t always the same thing. It’s not always cold during the winter, and winter isn’t the only time it gets cold.

The cold weather law prohibits cuts whenever it’s going to be 32 degrees or colder. If the “official” National Weather Service forecast says it will be 32 degrees or colder at any time during the 24 hours after a scheduled cut, or over the following weekend or holiday, your power can’t be cut off.  That saves you from being stuck in the cold without power.

This 32 degree rule applies year-round, so it prevents power shut-offs during any cold snaps in September or May.

Special “winter rules” apply to any disconnection a power company wants to try between December 1 and March 31. Fortunately, many power companies just don’t do disconnections during those winter months, since they don’t want to mess with watching the forecast. But if they really want to disconnect you in the winter, and the weatherman cooperates, power companies then have to give certain notices and offer a deferred payment plan before shutting you off.

A deferred payment plan gives you a chance to avoid disconnection by giving you more time to pay. It’s a written agreement that requires you to pay off your back bill over time while paying your new bills on time.

If you miss payments after setting up a deferred payment plan, the power company has to let you catch up on your payment agreement before shutting you off. That’s called reinstating, and means your payments on both the back and current bills get completely back on schedule

It’s important to note that these laws don’t apply to power cooperatives, or to municipal power companies. Co-ops and city utilities can follow their own rules, but they’re generally unregulated by Illinois law.

Two final tidbits from the utility regulations: Your payment isn’t late if it’s received within 2 business days of the due date.  And if your payment is late, you’re entitled to one waiver of late fees every 12 months.
 

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