Utility Service Disconnection
What Every Utility Consumer Should Know:
- You are responsible for paying your bills on time and in full.
- If you are unable to pay for your utility services, you are responsible for contacting the utility immediately to determine if alternate payment arrangements can be made.
- If you receive a disconnection notice, contact the utility right away and:
- Discuss exactly why you received the notice.
- Discuss payment plan options, if you are facing disconnection due to nonpayment.
- Remember that under certain circumstances, utilities are required to provide payment options while continuing to provide service. In other cases, they may provide such options.
- While the OUCC does not offer financial assistance, various programs can help low-income households.
Service disconnection rules vary by type of utility. This summary only applies to utilities that are regulated by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).* The IURC’s service disconnection rules are detailed in Title 170 of the Indiana Administrative Code.
- Disconnection Notices
When a regulated utility plans to disconnect a customer's service, it must provide a written notice in advance (exceptions are listed below):
- An electric or natural gas utility must give notice 14 days in advance.
- Regulated water and sewer utilities must give 7 days notice.
A disconnection notice:
- Must be clearly written, precise and understandable.
- Must include the date of and reason for the proposed disconnection.
- Must include the utility’s telephone number and consumer rights information (or a reference to a relevant publication).
- May be included on a customer's billing statement.
If and when you receive such a notice, you should contact the utility immediately.
A utility can only disconnect service for nonpayment between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. local time, and only on a day that the utility office is open to the public. Service may not be disconnected for nonpayment after noon of the day before any day that the utility's offices are closed to the public. (In other words, if a utility’s offices are closed on a particular Friday, it can not disconnect service after noon on the Thursday before.)
- When a Disconnection Occurs
A gas, electric, water or sewer utility employee:
- Must make a reasonable effort to identify himself or herself before disconnecting service;
- Should be able to answer any questions you may have about the disconnection procedure, the reason for the disconnection, and the total amount of delinquent charges; and
- Should attempt to verify whether any outstanding bills have been paid or are currently in dispute.
If you can provide a paid receipt or other credible evidence of payment, the employee is not allowed to disconnect service. Utilities are not required to collect any “on the spot” payments to prevent service disconnection. But they may. If you make an “on the spot” payment, be sure to get a written receipt showing the date and time, the payment amount, and the employee’s name and business address.
If your service is disconnected, the employee should provide the address and telephone number to contact to arrange for reconnection.
A utility can disconnect service without notice on certain conditions, including if:
- A dangerous or life-threatening situation exists;
- The IURC or a court has ordered the disconnection;
- The utility detects fraudulent or unauthorized service use (and has reasonable grounds to believe the customer is responsible);
- Equipment has been tampered with (and the utility has reasonable grounds to believe the customer is responsible); or
- The utility's equipment is being used in a way that disrupts service to other customers.
A utility may not disconnect service for failure to pay for merchandise or appliances purchased from the utility (as opposed to utility service).
A utility may also not disconnect for failure to pay for service to the previous occupant of a customer’s property, unless there is evidence that the customer is trying to defraud the utility by setting up service under a different name.
- Disconnection Can Be Avoided Under Certain Circumstances
A utility may decide not to disconnect service (even when it has the legal right to do so) if the customer contacts the utility to discuss the reason for falling behind in payments. But the customer must:
- Pay a reasonable portion of the bill -- the lesser of:
- $10 or 10 percent for electric, water and sewer, or
- $25 or 10 percent for natural gas;
- Agree to pay the remainder within three months;
- Agree to pay all undisputed future charges when due; &
- Not have violated any similar payment agreement with the utility in the last 12 months.
Home Energy Assistance
A gas or electric utility may not disconnect a customer’s service between December 1 and March 15 if he or she qualifies and has applied for the state's Energy Assistance Program, regardless of whether benefits are received.
If a disconnection will cause a serious and immediate threat to the health or safety of a person in your household, the utility must postpone the disconnection for 10 days if you provide a medical statement from a licensed physician or a public health official. This postponement can be continued for one additional 10-day period if an additional medical statement is provided. A natural gas utility may grant an additional postponement for medical reasons after 20 days, at the utility's discretion.
- Pay a reasonable portion of the bill -- the lesser of:
- Getting Reconnected
If a customer pays all past due charges or makes satisfactory payment arrangements and resolves any other problems that led to loss of service, he or she can apply to have service reconnected. The utility:
- Must reconnect service within one working day of the request.
- May charge a reconnection fee, but it cannot exceed the charge approved by the IURC.
- May require a customer deposit as allowed under IURC rules.
If a customer’s service has been wrongfully disconnected, the utility should restore the service immediately and at no charge.
- Wrongful Disconnection
If you believe a utility has wrongfully or illegally disconnected your service, contact the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) toll free at 1-800-851-4268.
- Financial Assistance
- Indiana's Energy Assistance Program (EAP) can help low-income Hoosiers with natural gas and electric bills. Those who qualify are protected from service disconnection during most of the winter heating season (but remain responsible for charges). For more information, call 1-800-382-9895 toll-free or view the directory of intake offices by county.
- Lifeline helps qualifying households pay for local phone service. You can learn more from your local phone company or from the OUCC.
- More assistance may be available from township trustees, private charities and individual utilities.
* The IURC does not regulate municipal sewer systems (except for Indianapolis). Indiana law allows certain utilities to remove themselves from IURC regulation, including municipal water and electric systems; utilities operated by not-for-profit corporations; privately owned water and sewer utilities serving fewer than 300 customers; and rural electric membership cooperatives (REMCs).
IURC disconnection rules do not apply to telephone (landline or wireless), Internet, cable television, or other telecommunications services.
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