What Are My Rights with My Electric Company?

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It's hard to keep up with electrical bills, especially in the winter. This information will help answer questions you may have about your rights.

Can I get help paying my electric bills?

  • The LIAP program: When you apply for LIHEAP (fuel assistance) at your local Community Action Agency, they will tell you if you are also eligible for a break on your electric bill. (This is called the LIAP program) People who get a housing subsidy are usually not eligible for this program. For more information, contact your local Community Action Program (CAP).
  • General Assistance: You may also be able to get help through your town or city's General Assistance (GA) Program. General Assistance is often only for people whose income is under a certain limit. However, the income limits can be higher in an emergency. For example, people may get GA if it is necessary to avoid electricity disconnection. You can apply at your Town Office or City Hall.
  • Emergency Assistance: This program can help families with children avoid a utility shut-off. Family income must be below 100% of poverty guidelines or the family must be getting TANF, SSI or Food Stamps. You can apply at the local office of the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Go here to learn about other programs that might help.

During the winter months can my utilities be disconnected?

Between November 15th and April 15th, you usually can not be cut off. Contact your electric company if you get a notice to cut you off. They can work with you to set up a “Special Payment Arrangement”. This helps to spread out high winter bills (from mid-November to mid-April) over a longer period of time. This means you will pay less during the winter months, when your bills are highest. You can then pay off the rest of the bill over the summer months. The entire back bill usually must be paid off by the next November 1st.

The "Special Payment Arrangement" is usually for families with incomes that are below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level, or when someone gets LIHEAP or SSI. However, others may be able to get it.

What if there's a month when I can't afford to pay my whole bill?

If you can't pay your entire bill, call the electric company. Ask to have a payment plan. In deciding the plan, they will look at your ability to pay. They will look at your past payment history. You may end up paying more in the summer and paying less in the winter when monthly bills are often high. If you don't pay according to the plan you agree to, the utility can send you a 3-day disconnect notice (except in the winter). If you get a 3-day disconnection notice, it means you'll have to pay the whole bill right away, unless you are able to get the company to agree to change the payment plan.

What can I do if the electric company sends me a disconnect notice?

In most cases, the company will send a 14-day disconnect notice. (If you break the payment agreement, they may only give you a 3-days notice). In general, you will need to pay any back money owed by the disconnect date to keep the company from shutting off your power. Your power can generally not be shut off before 8:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m. It can also not be shut off on a Friday, during the weekend, on a legal holiday or the day before a legal holiday, or any day the office is closed.

If I have an illness or disability, can I stop the disconnection?

If you or a member of your family is seriously ill, the company won't disconnect your power for up to at least 30 days. The 30 days can be renewed. However, it can not last for more than 120 days in the year.

Have the doctor's office call the company (or call yourself if you can't get the doctor right away). You may need to get a letter from the doctor's office, but only if the utility thinks that you are not telling the truth about being sick.

Even though you will be given extra time, you will still need to eventually pay the bill. You may also be required to enter into a payment plan

What if my landlord gets my power shut-off?

If you are a tenant, and the electric bill is in the landlord's name, your power can't be disconnected without your being offered the chance to put the service in your name. You must also get at least 14 days notice before any disconnection. You don't have to pay the landlord's back bill.

What if I can't pay the full bill at one time?

The company must offer you a reasonable payment plan rather than disconnect you. If the reason for the disconnection notice is failure to pay under a previous payment arrangement, the company does not have to (but it may) offer you a payment plan. If you have worked out a long-term payment plan, and you are making the payments as you agreed, they can't disconnect you.

What if I can't work things out with my electric company?

First, call the phone number on the bill or disconnect notice. Try talking with the manager or supervisor. If you can't work things out, you can call:

The Consumer Assistance Division of the Maine PUC
1-800-452-4699 or (207)287-1597 (TTY: 1-800-437-1220)

The phone lines are often busy. Keep trying. When you get through, be sure to leave a message with the reason you called, your name, phone number and the date you called. You can also file a complaint on-line if you have access to the internet. Or you can send a letter to:

Consumer Assistance Division
Maine Public Utility Commission
242 State Street
18 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0018

If you contact the Consumer Assistance Division before the disconnect date, your power will stay on while they investigate. You will need to keep paying on - or arrange to pay - any parts of the bill you agree you owe, or your service could be disconnected.

For legal advice and assistance, contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance.

March 2009

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