There are certain cases when a utility company cannot shut off your service. In these situations, if they disconnect a service, they must restore it. These situations are:
- You make a deferred payment arrangement (DPA) with the utility. A DPA is where you make a down payment on the amount you owe, and pay the rest over a period of up to 12 months. You may renegotiate the terms of the DPA one time so long as you are not in default and you have paid the down payment.
- DPA general rule: The utility customer must offer you a DPA so long as you have not defaulted on a DPA in the past 12 months. You must pay 25% of the past due amount and agree to pay the balance off. You must be given at least 4 to 12 months to pay off the balance.
- DPA low-income customer rule: The maximum down payment must be no more than 20% of the past due amount, and low-income customers must be given at least 6 to 12 months to pay the balance. The utility company may agree to a period longer than 12 months. The utility must offer an amended DPA to a low-income customer who is in default if the customer has made at least two consecutive full payments and has not been in default for more than 90 days. You may reinstate a defaulted DPA before disconnection by paying the DPA amount due up to the current date and the amount due under current bills. The utility company may not charge you a reinstatement fee as a low-income customer.
- You present a valid medical certificate. A medical certificate keeps your service from being shut off for 60 days and triggers a medical payment arrangement.
- After business hours. Utility companies cannot shut off services after 4:00 PM unless the utility company could also reconnect the same day. The specific after business hours are after 4:00 PM Monday through Thursday, after 12:00 PM on Friday, and anytime on a holiday.
- Where you dispute a bill, as long as the dispute is still pending and you pay the undisputed portion.
- You are a member of the armed forces on active duty.
- Cold Weather Forecast. Utility companies cannot shut off services where gas or electricity is needed to operate a heating system on any day that the National Weather Service predicts for the next 24 hours that the temperature will fall to 32° or lower. This also applies where gas or electricity service is needed to operate heat on any day before a weekend or holiday when the National Weather Service predicts that the temperature will fall to 32° or below at any time during the holiday or weekend.
- Hot Weather Forecast. Utility companies cannot shut off services where gas or electricity is needed to operate a cooling system on any day that the National Weather Service predicts for the following 24 hours that the temperature will be 95° or above. This also applies where gas or electricity is needed to operate a cooling system on any day before a holiday or weekend when the National Weather Service forecasts that the temperature will be 95° or above at any time during the holiday or weekend.
If the utility did not correctly follow shut off rules, the termination of utility service would be illegal.
Preventing shutoff or restoring utility service due to illness
A utility company cannot shut off your service for up to 60 days if you give the company a valid medical certificate that says that shut off would make a severe existing illness worse for someone who lives in the house.
The medical certificate for the utility company must be written by a registered physician or a local board of health. The certification must be in writing and state:
- The name and service address of the ill person;
- That the person is a resident of the household;
- The name, address, and telephone number of the physician; and
- A statement that the disconnection of utility service will aggravate an existing medical emergency or create a medical emergency for the patient.
Certification may be done by telephone, but within seven days you must give the utility company a written medical certification by fax, mail, or e-mail. If your service has been disconnected, but you gave a written medical certification, your service must be restored within 14 days.
A medical certificate keeps your service from being shut off for 60 days from the date of the certification. If you were shut off before certification, the 60 days starts when your service is reconnected.
A medical payment arrangement automatically starts 30 days after the certification date. You must pay the amount due under the payment arrangement and continue to pay your current bill.
If you make a medical payment arrangement before your service is shut off, you must follow this payment plan:
- The first payment must be for 1/12 of the total amount owed; and
- The balance should be paid in 11 equal installments with future bills.
If you make a medical payment arrangement after your service is shut off, you must follow this plan:
- The first payment shall be for 1/4 of the total amount owed; and
- The balance paid in 9 equal installments on future bills.
You can only get one medical certificate every 12 months unless you pay off the total account balance. After 12 months, you may get a new medical certificate and medical payment arrangement.