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. You will get an extra benefit if you use a ventilator or oxygen pump. 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.
  • Arrearage Management Program:  If you owe your utility for bills that are at least 90 days old and that total more than $500, you may be eligible to get onto the Arrearage Management Program.  You must be eligible for LIHEAP so start with your local Community Action Program, if you have not gotten LIHEAP in the past 12 months.  Then contact your electric utility.

Under the Arrearage Management Program you just pay your current month’s bill.  For each month that you pay your current bill, on time, a portion of your back bill will be forgiven.

Call 211 for help.

  • 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 cannot 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 payment arrangement or maybe you can get into the Arrearage Management Program (see above) . 

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.

Always ask the utility if you can get into the Arrearage Management Program.  This is the best bet if you owe $500 or more and are more than 90 days past due.

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 30 days. You can get 2 more extensions, each up to 30 days, within the 12 month period, if your medical situation requires it.  So, you could get 90 days per 12 month period during which your electricity cannot be shut-off. 

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. Your doctor’s office will need to verify how long you need- which cannot be more than 30 days at any one time.

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 usually 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. From here click on "My problem is with a regulated utility"; then "Yes, I want to file a complaint."  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 the Pine Tree Legal Assistance office nearest you.

March 2009

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