CT utilities differ on when moratorium on payment collection, shutoffs should end

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Connecticut utility companies are taking different approaches to handling the pandemic-related moratorium on collection of past-due bills and service disconnection for residential customers.

The United Illuminating Co. and its sister natural gas utilities, Southern Connecticut Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas, will resume past-due bill collections and service shutoffs starting Oct. 1, according to an announcement by company officials Wednesday. But Eversource Energy officials said the company doesn’t plan to resume either bill collections or shutoffs at this point for its electric, natural gas or water utilities.

“Extending the moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment gives customers breathing room during this uncertain time, and we will continue to suspend all residential customer disconnects as well as waive late payment charges beyond the moratorium’s expiration in October,” said Penni Conner, Eversource’s senior vice president and chief customer service officer.

Both companies developed and implemented their bill collection and shutoff moratorium by working with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. The moratorium originally was to have expired Wednesday but was extended to Oct. 1, according to Ed Crowder, spokesman for United Illuminating and its sister companies, which are subsidiaries of Orange-based Avangrid.

“This is really something that PURA is calling the shots on, but sometime after Oct. 1, we will begin the notification process associated with disconnections,” Crowder said. “The goal is not going to shut off anybody. Our message to customers is, if you are concerned about paying your bill, you can take action.”

Even though UI and its sister utilities are resuming past-due bill collections and shutoffs after Oct. 1, the rules governing disconnection make it highly unlikely customers would lose their service between then and Nov. 1. That’s when the utility’s winter service protection program begins: Customers who have obtained hardship status based on their income or medical situation will be protected from shutoffs between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1.

Both companies have established programs that allow residential customers who have fallen behind in paying their bills because of the COVID-19 related economic downturn to catch up.

For UI and its sister utilities, the payment plans allow customers impacted by the pandemic to pay off accumulated balances over a two-year period, with no security deposit, penalty or interest. Eversource has a similar plan.

“If you are having difficulty paying your utility bill, we encourage you to contact us even if you’ve never done so before,” Conner said. “We can work one-on-one with you to identify plans or options to help – including the special COVID-19 Payment Program.”

Tony Marone, president and chief executive officer for UI, SCG and CNG, said customers who have accounts with more than one of the companies will need to enroll separately for each.

“We recognize that the return to normal collections will be challenging for some of them,” Marone said . “We want to make sure they have the opportunity to take advantage of programs that can help them manage their monthly bills. For some customers who have lost income, this may be a new situation, so it’s important for them to be aware of the financial support that is available.”

The vast majority of UI and Eversource’s electric distribution customers are residential accounts.

All but 34,000 of UI’s customers are residential. Eversource has 917,000 residential customers out of 1.25 million customers in Connecticut.

Neither company was immediately able to provide information on how many of its residential customers currently have past-due accounts.

Connecticut Media Group