Have utility companies shut off your service? It’s hard to underplay the importance of amenities such as water, electricity and gas in keeping a household running. Meanwhile, these services come at a cost. Unfortunately, there are times when individuals or households may not be able to afford their utility bills due to financial hardship as a result of loss of job or lack of one. But does your inability to pay for vital utility services put you at the risk of being disconnected? This post explains what you can do to avert disconnection if you’re facing imminent utility shut off.
What Can I do if I Cannot pay my Utility Bill?
It is unlikely that you will receive a notice of impending utility shut off if you’ve only missed one month’s utility bill, unless you have a poor payment record. You’ll probably hear from the utility company if you have missed payments for two months or more.
- If you receive past-due notices coupled with a threat to cut off your service, then it’s important you approach the utility service through their customer representative to discuss your options on how to prevent the imminent disconnection. It is also possible for them to lower your bills through a repayment plan so you can catch up with your outstanding bills, and be able to afford the future payments.
If your service has been disconnected, the company will most likely ask you to make a security deposit in addition to the amount you already owed before your services can be restored. The deposit is usually about three times the average of your monthly bill. Some states regulate the deposit rates following utility shut offs. You can contact a lawyer to learn about your state’s law on the matter.
Find out if You Qualify for a Monetary Grant through LIHEAP
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a United States federal social service scheme designed to help low-income households pay for heating and cooling bills. Individuals and families with an income less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines are likely to qualify for emergency funding to settle the payment of their bills.
If you’re qualified for the financial support, you will be able to get future bills reduced. Also, it could enable you to spread out payments on past bills.
- To confirm if you qualify for the fund, contact your state’s LIHEAP office or visit their official website for information.
Special Protections and Laws that Prohibit Utility Cut Offs
- If you do not qualify for the LIHEAP, you might be able to claim a right against utility discussions. The following are instances where utility services such as electricity and water are regarded as life-saving services:
Serious Illness or Personal Safety
- Utility companies providing essential services such as electricity, gas and private water cannot disconnect your service if you, or your child, or someone else within your house is seriously ill which as a result makes it impossible for you to pay your bill. You must be able to show a proof of a medical doctor’s confirmation of such medical conditions.
Examples of such medical conditions may include serious mental or psychological issues such as depression, anxiety disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or chronic health issues such as diabetes, asthma, asthma. Note that a household where the breadwinner contracted coronavirus can be exempted from utility shut off.
To enforce your right, take the following steps:
- Contact your doctor, physician, healthcare provider or the local Board of Health and explain your situation. Ask them to immediately contact the utility company that you or someone in your household is seriously which has led to a serious financial crisis and prevented you from pay your bills
- Upon receipt of your letter, your doctor or the Board of Health must send a letter to the utility company confirming the illness. You may have protection of 90-180 days depending on how serious the illness is.
- Once you confirm the utility company has been informed about your plight, contact the company and request for a financial hardship form. Fill out the form and submit as proof that you are unable to pay the bill you owe.
- Your doctor or the Board of Health must send a letter to the company at the end of the protected period. The period can however be extended for as long as the serious illness persists.
Extreme Weather Condition
- Most Northern states illegalize disconnection of heat-related utilities during winter. During this period, the service is regarded as a life-saving service. If you have trouble paying your bill, call the company and ask them to send you a financial hardship form. Fill out the form and return as soon as possible.
Family with Infants or Elderly People
- Electric, gas and private water companies are prohibited from shutting off the service of households where there’s an infant under one year old, or seniors of 65 years or older especially if the household also proves low-income earning.
Filing for Bankruptcy
Utility companies are prohibited from terminating your utility service if you’re currently going through bankruptcy and can provide some proof that you can pay future bills.
You can reach out to an attorney for further legal assistance on your utility-related matters.