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Shut-off protections

Sometimes, depending on the weather or other circumstance, it can be hard to keep up with utility bills and you might fear getting your utilities shut off. Fortunately, Minnesota law contains several protections for consumers.

There are a few different instances described below in which your utilities could be potentially shut off. We summarized information based on information from the Public Utilities Commission, which has statutory authority to address these issues, and a handout by the Attorney General’s office that addresses these issues.

Cold Weather Rule Protection

Can my utilities be shut off in the winter?

YES, your heat can still be turned off.

One of the most common misunderstandings of the Cold Weather Rule that we run into is that people think their electricity can’t be shut off during winter months. However, this is not the case. To enact any shut-off protection, it is the responsibility of the consumer to reach out and create a payment plan with their utility provider.

 

Minnesota weather can get extremely cold in the winter which can lead to high heating costs for households. The Cold Weather Rule provides special protections for Minnesotans facing disconnection between October 15 and April 15. Again, this does not mean that your utility provider cannot disconnect service. It does, however, require your utility to take several steps before disconnection.

If your household income is below 50% of the state median, a utility cannot disconnect you and must reconnect the utility service if your primary heat source is affected. It is the responsibility of the consumer to provide verification of income, but your provider is required to give the consumer a reasonable time frame to provide information on income and work out a payment plan based on what the consumer can afford.

Utilities are required by Minnesota state statute to provide the following information to customers facing disconnection during the period of the Cold Weather Rule:

  1. a notice of proposed disconnection;
  2. payment plan options to stop a disconnection
  3. appeal rights if you and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan
  4. a list of local energy assistance and weatherization providers
  5. a list of no-cost and lower-cost methods to conserve energy
  6. a Third Party Notice form

If you would like to arrange a payment plan under the Cold Weather Rule, contact your utility provider. If you cannot come to an agreed payment plan with your provider, or you feel like your provider is asking you to pay more than you can afford, contact the Public Utilities Commission to file an appeal. You must file “with the commission no later than seven working days after the customer’s receipt of a personally served appeal notice, or within ten working days after the utility has deposited (utility documents mailing) a first class mail appeal notice.” The Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office will help you and your provider arrange a plan based on what you can afford to pay.

 

Medical Device Protection:

In their handout, the Office of the Attorney General summarizes state statute, “Minnesota law requires a utility to reconnect or continue service to a customer’s residence where a medical emergency exists or where medical equipment require electricity to sustain life.” In other words, if you have medical equipment that is needed to keep you, or a household member alive, your household would qualify for this utility protection.

In order to enact this protection, you must provide your utility provider with a doctor’s note and ask your provider if they have any paperwork to apply for the protection. If you and your utility disagree about whether a medical device qualifies you for this protection, consult the Public Utilities Commission for assistance. Once you have notified your utility, the two parties must agree and stick to a payment plan.

 

Military Personnel Protection:

When a member of a household gets called up for military service, it can cause financial strain. State Statute forbids a municipal utility, cooperative electric association, or public utility to disconnect the utility service of a residential customer if a member of the household has been issued orders into active duty if the household creates a payment plan with the utility provider.

 

Our advice:

  • When in doubt, contact the Public Utilities Commission Consumer Affairs Office. They will work with your utility provider and you to help you figure out a plan to prevent disconnection or reconnect after your electricity has been disconnected.
  • Don’t wait; act immediately. After receiving your initial notice, if you can’t agree on a payment plan with your utility, you only have “seven working days after the customer’s receipt of a personally served appeal notice, or within ten working days after the utility has deposited (utility documents mailing) a first class mail appeal notice.” Even if you owe a smaller amount of money, like $22.00, your utility provider can still decide to shut your services off. There is no minimum amount of money you need to owe for a utility provider to shut your services off.
  • For further in-depth information on these policies, consult information provided by the Public Utilities Commission here.

 

Contact information for the Public Utilities Commission:

Public Utilities Commission

121 7th Pl E #350

 St. Paul, MN 55101

Phone number: (651) 296-0406

Email: consumer.puc@state.mn.us

If you ever need any help with lowering the cost of your bills to avoid disconnection, please reach out to us here at Citizens Utility Board Minnesota at (651) 300-4701 or at info@cubminnesota.org.

This blog post was modified on January 8, 2019 based on feedback from the Public Utilities Commission Public Affairs Office. 

Author: Ana Diaz

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