For Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities
The NC Utilities Commission placed a moratorium on utility disconnections for customers of investor-owned utilities (IOU’s) from March 19 through August 31, 2020, thereby allowing utilities to begin disconnecting customers for non-payment of bills sent out beginning September 1, 2020. The IOU’s covered by this order include: Duke Energy Progress, Duke Energy Carolinas, Dominion Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Public Service Co. of NC (PSNC), Carolina Water Service, and Aqua NC. State-owned New River Light and Power is also covered.
In its order allowing that moratorium to expire, the Commission placed the following restrictions and requirements on those utilities:
- Customers remain responsible for paying any accumulated bill debt and regular bills.
- Utilities must offer customers an extended “Special Repayment Plan” of 12 months or more, to repay the utility bill debt a customer accrued through August 31, unless the customer agrees to a shorter repayment period.
- Utilities are encouraged to offer additional options to best accommodate customers’ needs and financial situations, including waiving or extending the repayment period under a Special Repayment Plan, especially if doing so would prevent undue hardship in those cases where service disconnection would be dangerous to the health of the individual customer, members of the customer’s household, or to public health.
- Utilities cannot charge late payment fees, but they can charge fees for returned checks and credit card payments.
- Utilities cannot use disconnections or any legal process to collect debt from a customer who is enrolled in, and in compliance with a Special Repayment Plan.
- Utilities cannot report customers to credit reporting agencies if and for as long as that customer is enrolled in, and in compliance with a Special Repayment Plan.
- Utilities cannot encourage or solicit a customer to use a credit card or other third-party financing or extension of credit to pay off their debt, unless requested by the customer.
The Commission “strongly urged” utilities to “be flexible in working with...customers most vulnerable to COVID-19-related hardship, and to weigh the [utility’s] financial needs with the welfare of individual customers and the necessity of utility service to the protection of public health from the spread of [COVID-19].”
Even in normal times, regulated utilities are required to wait at least 60 days (or 90 days for customers in “good standing”) before disconnecting customers, and must take all measures necessary to notify customers that they will be disconnected. Notifications must be provided 30 days, 10 days, and 24 hours in advance of disconnection, and must include two written notices, text messages, and direct phone calls.
Utilities are also required to explain all available alternatives to disconnection, including repayment plan options, and are prohibited from disconnecting service on Fridays, weekends, on state or federal holidays, or on days leading up to state or federal holidays.
Finally, customers who meet all three of the the following criteria may apply to be exempt from having their service disconnected for non-payment between November 1 and March 31:
- A household member is certifiably handicapped or elderly (65 years or older), or both;
- The customer is unable to pay for the utility service in full; and,
- The household is certified by a local social service office as being eligible for low-income assistance programs.
Submitting A Complaint
If you feel your utility is in violation of any of the above requirements, call the Public Staff’s Consumer Services Division at 919-733-9277, or toll-free at 866-380-9816 and ask to speak to a complaint analyst. They will investigate your complaint and work toward a resolution.If no resolution is reached, you will be asked to file a formal complaint with the Utilities Commission.