Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Unfortunately, many families in our region aren’t just dealing with the cold outside but are also freezing indoors because power or heat has been turned off.

Receiving a utility disconnect notice can make you feel doomed. You may feel like there’s nothing you can do. But there is hope! You must communicate your needs and situation to the utility company.

YOU are your and your child’s best ADVOCATE! You know your story, situation, and needs.

And you have RIGHTS!

What are my rights when it comes to utilities?

 You can read the full consumer bill of rights here, but if you are dealing with a potential shutoff here are some key rights:

  • You must be provided a disconnect notice SEPARATE from your bill. It should also state your right to appeal.

Check out this blog post for specifics about water, sewer, electric, and natural gas and what you MUST receive:

  • You have the right to negotiate a partial payment plan when your service is threatened by disconnection for non-payment.
  • You have the right to participate in equal, budget payment plans for your natural gas and electric service.  
  • You have the right to maintain your utility service for up to thirty (30) days upon presentation of a medical certificate issued by a health official.

If MEMBER OF HOUSEHOLD IS ILL: The customer should bring in, before the shut-off date, a “Certificate of Need” statement signed by a doctor, nurse, or public health official, saying that cutting off service would harm a member of the household who is ill. Follow-up requests for extensions must include not only the doctor’s statement but also an agreed partial payment plan.

  • If you have been disconnected due to nonpayment and you have a medical issue, you have the right to have your natural gas or electric service reconnected for Winter Hardship between the months of November through March provided you: 1. Present a Certificate of Need issued by the Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources, and 2. Pay one third (1/3) of your outstanding bill ($200 maximum), and 3. Accept referral to the Human Resources’ Weatherization Program, and 4. Agree to a repayment schedule.  
  • You have the right to contact the Public Service commission regarding any dispute that you have been unable to resolve with your utility (Call Toll Free 1-800-772-4636).

Ready to exercise your rights?!

Call your Community Action Agency: Your community action agency administers Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). They also administer Healthy at Home COVID-19 assistance.  See if you can make an appointment.

But don’t stop here, especially if you can’t get through.

Call the Utility Company Today!

  1. Call the Utility Company and explain the situation and ask for emergency assistance.
  2.  Ask to set up a payment plan.
  3. If the customer service representative does not agree with a payment plan, politely ask to speak with a supervisor. Explain your financial situation to the supervisor and tell them what you can afford to pay each month. They will want you to make a “good faith effort.” This could be as little as $10.
  4. If a payment plan doesn’t work, ask about pre-payment. Some folks pay a small amount in advance to keep utilities on and continue to pay small amounts as they are able.

Avoid disconnection. If your utilities are shut off, the utility company may ask you to pay the entire balance due, a new connect fee, and a new deposit. PERSIST.

Stuck? Can’t find a way forward with your utility company?

  • Call the Public Service commission at 1-800-772-4636 regarding any dispute that you have been unable to resolve with your utility.
  • Anyone needing legal help around utility shut off and utility disputes should call AppalReD’s Central Intake at 1-866-277-5733 or the legal aid that serves their region. You can also call for advice before you call the utility company.

Will there be more federal help for COVID relief?

As of 12/21, it looks like the Senate and House have agreed on a stimulus package. They still must vote and the president must sign into law. But be on the lookout for an eviction moratorium and rental and utility assistance. 🤞🤞🤞

Sources: Utility Shutoffs and Disconnections, Legal Aid Network of Kentucky

Public Service Commission Customer Bill of Rights

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