The state of California has implemented new regulations to reduce the number of times utilities (such as water, gas, or electricity) are disconnected. The state is currently focusing on addressing customers of Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, as both of those energy providers have a higher rate of disconnections than others in the state.
Recently, the California Public Utility Commission made a decision that can help low income customers. The government organization collaborated with The Utility Reform Network, National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, and the Center for Accessible Technology to develop these new laws and regulations.
The new regulation’s main goal is to protect the safety and health of low-income customers who may experience a financial hardship or emergency, including low-income families with children, disabled people, and seniors. Several key measures have been put into place to help ensure that low-income customers who are struggling to pay their bills are not disconnected from their service. It is important to provide customers with the resources they need to stay up to date on their utility payments, and to prevent their service from being shut off. The new laws will prevent people from being accidentally disconnected from their power, heat, or air conditioning.
This means that energy companies in California have to provide a way for low income customers to pay their energy bills and keep their service. The utility companies need to be more flexible with their at-risk customers, especially those who are most vulnerable.
The California Public Utility Commission will make sure that the following rules are obeyed. If they are not in compliance, both energy providers could be fined by the state.
Certain customer’s utilities will not be disconnected without a prior in-person site visit from the utility company. This visit is for people who have life support, the Medical Baseline rate, or those who can certify a serious illness or life threatening condition.
All people who are facing disconnection from their energy source, regardless of their background or personal situation, are provided the ability to speak to a live customer service representative to get help with enrolling in the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) financial assistance program.
Utility companies in California want to avoid shutoffs, so they work with customers to keep usage below a certain level.
Customers who have a disability should be given a way to communicate that works for them.
Both PGE and SCE cannot charge a fee for reconnecting service to Family Electric Rates Assistance and CARE low-income customers.
All customers should be given the option to pay in installments. If you’re struggling to pay your bills in California, you can ask for a payment plan that will last at least 3 months. This is available for people who are about to have their power shut off.
A credit deposit cannot be required from a customer based on a bankruptcy filing alone. The only time the utility is allowed to make an exception is when a customer has a history of fraud or bad check writing.
Some customers of PG&E and SCE may be eligible for the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program, which offers a discount on monthly energy bills. The utility company cannot contact the customer using an automated system, but instead a live representative needs to make the phone call to advise customers.
This means that you cannot charge someone extra for paying their bill late.
The utilities need to inform any customer that owes them money, or any type of arrearage on a utility bill, or payment plans. If someone is about to be disconnected from their service, they have the right to set up a payment plan that will last for at least three months. The plan could be continued for up to 12 months in some situations.
This means that the amount of money that energy companies are able to put into savings accounts is limited. They can only collect a reasonable amount of money, which is twice the average monthly bill, and not more than twice the maximum monthly bill.