Utility Shutoffs and Disconnections in Kentucky
Utility companies are called "public" because they serve the public, but they are private corporations or cooperatives.
In Kentucky, most of the electric, gas, telephone, and water utility companies and districts, including Rural Electric and Telephone Cooperatives, are subject to the rules of the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Utilities not regulated by PSC: Propane gas, TVA, city-owned utilities, and cable TV services are not subject to PSC regulation. Problems must be worked out with the companies using the rules set by the city or company running the service.
The following outline applies only to customers of PSC-regulated utilities.A UTILITY MAY REFUSE OR SHUT OFF SERVICE IF A CUSTOMER:
- Does not follow company or PSC rules (but customer has to have been given a chance to obey, after which customer must get at least 10 days' written notice before a cut-off of service;
- Does not fix a danger at the customer's home even tho' the customer is able to fix it;
- Does not allow the company to come on the customer's property for meter reading or other needed activities (again, customer must be given a chance to comply, and then 10 days' written notice);
- Has an outstanding bill, or is not paying current bills (see below);
- Does not follow state, local or other codes (again, 10 days' written notice must be given before shut-off, unless local government requires shutoff immediately;
- Steals service or gets service by fraud. In this case, the company does not have to give advance notice; but written notice of the utility's reason and the customer's right of appeal must be sent within 24 hours of service being refused or disconnected.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS REQUIREMENTS
Generally, every PSC utility must:
- Provide a toll-free telephone line to a customer service person;
- Employ at least one full-time customer service person;
- Display the PSC list of customer rights;
- Allow customers to work out payment plans;
- Offer budget payment plans (spreading costs over 12 months);
- Connect new service within 72 hours, and re-connect within 24 hours, when conditions for service have been met;
- Before connecting new service, check meter and connections to detect prior fraud, so the new customer won't be overcharged;
SHUT-OFF OF SERVICE FOR NON-PAYMENT
Contents of Notice:
In almost all cases, any utility company that intends to shut off service for any reason must mail or take to the customer, at their last known address, notice that:
- Is in writing and is apart from any bill;
- Gives the reasons for shut-off;
- Tells the customer they have a right to appeal;
- Warns that the shut-off will occur even if a new bill is sent.
Gas and Electric Companies Must:
- Mail written notice of termination at least ten (10) days in advance;
- Not shut service off until at least 27 days after the date of the original bill;
- Include with the notice information about heating assistance programs and a phone number for the local office of Community Based Services.
Water, Sewer and Telephone Companies Must:
- Mail written notice at least 5 days in advance;
- Not shut off service until at least 20 days after date of the original bill.
PREVENTING A SHUTOFF OF SERVICE AFTER GETTING NOTICE
A 30-Day Extension of Service Must Be Granted if:
- Member of Household is Ill: The customer brings 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.
- Notice Goes To Low-Income Household between November 1 & March 31: Customer brings in, before the shut-off date, a statement from their local office of Community Based Services that they qualify for the heating assistance program or their income is at or below 130% of poverty. If the customer can work out a payment plan which will catch up their bill by no later than October 15, they can't be disconnected.
GETTING SERVICE RE-CONNECTED AFTER IT HAS BEEN SHUT OFF
Winter Hardship Reconnection
If electric or gas service has already been shut off, a low-income household can get service back under the Winter Hardship Reconnection program, which runs from November 1 thru March 31 each winter.
To get this help, a customer must:
- Get a Certificate of Need (see above), and give it to the utility company; and
- Be referred to, and use if possible, weatherization services (eg., insulation, new windows, etc.) from the state; and
- Pay 1/3 of their outstanding bill or $200, whichever is less, at the time of applying; and
- Agree to a repayment schedule to catch up the bill by no later than the next October 15. If the bill is over $600, the customer must pay all of their current bill and make a good faith payment on the balance, based on ability to pay. Customers current on a payment plan may not be terminated.
GETTING HELP WITH PAYING UTILITY BILLS
A Kentucky program to help low-income households pay their utility bills is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It is run by the Department for Community-Based Services (DCBS). Eligibility is based upon family size and income. If you think you may be eligible for this help, check with your county DCBS office.
INTEREST ON SECURITY DEPOSITS
PSC-regulated utility companies must pay 6% interest on every customer's security deposit, except that water utilities may not pay more than the interest rate they get on their investments. A utility that violates this law can be fined $100 for each violation.
The PSC maintains a toll-free helpline to give information on PSC rules and regulations, and for help in settling disputes: 1-800-772-4636 (1-800-PSC-INFO).
For legal advice, call your local lawyer referral service or, if you are a low-income person, contact your local Legal Services office.
Persons over the age of 60 may obtain advice and consultation at 1-800-200-3633, the Legal HelpLine for Older Kentuckians.
Reviewed August 2009