ATTORNEY GENERAL TONG PRAISES PURA DECISION THAT IMPROVES AWARENESS OF ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS FOR HARDSHIP CUSTOMERS
Attorney General William Tong today praised an Interim Decision by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) directing the electric utilities to implement a series of practical solutions aimed at improving public awareness of hardship programs that assist residents who struggle to pay their electric bills.
The Interim Decision orders Eversource Energy (Eversource) and the United Illuminating Company to submit a proposed schedule for a series of outreach and education events during the months of January and February 2020 to educate members of the public on available energy assistance programs. The Interim Decision is a first step in a PURA proceeding aimed at investigating energy affordability for all classes of Connecticut consumers.
"Countless Connecticut residents are struggling to pay their utility bills this winter season. If a customer is struggling to pay their heat and electric bills, help is available. This decision ensures that the electric utilities take the necessary steps to educate hardship customers on the type of assistance that is available to them. I applaud PURA for taking timely action to assist those who are in need this season," said Attorney General Tong.
Attorney General Tong recommended to PURA that the utility outreach campaigns also include information about utility scams that target low-income customers and arm residents with the information needed to protect themselves from scammers.
Utility scams disproportionately impact low-income customers who may already struggle to keep current with their electric bills. In November, the Office of the Attorney General and Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection warned Eversource consumers that scammers may have gained access to customer account numbers and have been using this information in attempts to defraud consumers.
Attorney General Tong reminds consumers that even if the caller ID is from an Eversource number and the automated system sounds like Eversource, consumers still should not pay a utility shut-off demand via a pre-paid card. The electric utilities will never call consumers to demand an immediate payment to avoid shut-off. Consumers can always call their utility to verify any call threatening utility shut-off, and report scams to our office at 860-808-5420 or online here.
Under the Interim Decision, the utilities are also required to submit a fact sheet summarizing relevant information to all customers about the available programs, policies and procedures for hardship and low-income customers. Utilities must also provide a sample customer service script that addresses questions from residential customers who contact the utilities to express concern about their ability to pay their bills.
In 2016 and 2017, more than 300,000 residents spent more than six percent of their household income on energy bills.
A 2016 report commissioned by Operation Fuel estimated that more than 436,000 households in Connecticut – nearly one-third of Connecticut households – are income-eligible for low-income energy programs in the state. As of 2015, the state-administered Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) provided assistance to approximately 22 percent of the more than 436,000 households eligible for the program, and covered approximately 16 percent of the household's average annual energy bill.
Under Connecticut law, consumers who heat with either gas or electricity and apply and qualify for hardship status will be assured of electric and gas service during the winter moratorium. The winter moratorium runs from Nov. 1 to May 1. The utility companies encourage customers qualifying for the winter moratorium to enter into a payment plan and to apply for energy assistance. If consumers qualify, the gas or electric company may match all or part of any payments made on the account.