Published September 26, 2023
So, you’re a few months behind on your energy bill, and you’ve received a disconnection notice. Don’t panic – there are avenues to find your way out of this situation and keep your power or gas on without breaking the bank. Keep reading for our step-by-step guide to avoiding disconnection:
1. Contact your utility. The very first thing you should do when you receive a disconnection notice is contact your utility provider. Don’t put it off or avoid the notice – it won’t go away if you don’t do anything.
Your utility is required to negotiate a payment plan with you to avoid disconnection and pay down your balance. By law, the payment plan must consider your household’s financial circumstances. Utilities may ask for high payment amounts to pay down your past due bills quickly, but it is in your interest to make sure you only agree to a payment plan that is reasonable for your situation. Be clear about what you need. If you break the payment plan, you risk disconnection again. If you cannot reach an agreement with your utility, tell them you will call back, and move on to Step 2.
If your service has already been disconnected, utilities typically charge a reconnection fee and may attempt to collect up to 75 percent of the past due amount before turning your service back on. The utility will also require you to enter into a payment plan for any remaining past due balance. Although the threat of disconnection is daunting, you should not agree to a payment plan that doesn’t work for your household budget. Remember, state law requires the utility to make a payment plan that considers your financial circumstances.
Be proactive and contact your utility as soon as you receive a disconnection notice; work with them to develop a payment plan that is affordable and maintainable.
- Cold weather protections: There is a common misconception that utilities are prevented by law from disconnecting customer’s electricity and gas during the winter months (October 1 through April 30). In order to prevent disconnection under the Cold Weather Rule, you must first arrange a payment plan with your utility to pay down any past due bills. If you don’t keep up with payments, you may be disconnected. Don’t find yourself without heat in the cold months: reach out to your utility as soon as possible if you have a past-due balance.
2. If you are unable to come to an agreement on a payment plan that works for your household budget, contact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) Consumer Affairs Office to assist you in setting up a more reasonable payment plan. The PUC is a state agency that handles consumer complaints related to energy and telecommunications utility services, service quality, billing problems, and service disconnections and reconnections. In cases of disconnection, they can act as a mediator between you and the utility.
3. See if you’re eligible for Energy Assistance. Many households in Minnesota may not be aware they qualify for Energy Assistance. This program helps customers pay down past due balances and keep bills low. If you qualify, Energy Assistance can provide funds upfront to get you back on track with your bills. If you have been disconnected or have a shut off notice, you may also be eligible for additional “crisis” funding from Energy Assistance.
Energy Assistance is administered on a county level, usually through your local Community Action Partnership, or through other local organizations. See below for the income guidelines to qualify for Energy Assistance and click here for a complete list of Community Action agencies administering the program in your area.
4. If you’re eligible for Energy Assistance, you may also qualify for affordability programs to keep your electric and gas bills low throughout the year. State-regulated utilities including CenterPoint and Xcel Energy offer programs that cap your monthly gas and electric bills at a small percentage of your income, usually around 2 to 4 percent These programs also include “arrearage forgiveness,” through which the utility will forgive part of your debt if you keep up with a payment plan over time. Click here for more information on affordability programs.
5. If you have special medical needs that require consistent power in your home (i.e., you run a CPAP machine overnight or need to keep insulin constantly refrigerated), you may qualify for both shutoff protections and forgiveness of past-due bills. Take a look at this list of programs offered by utilities. Contact your utility directly if you do not see your utility listed.
6. Look into additional assistance programs to help offset other household costs. For example, are you eligible for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)? Are there programs in your community that help with housing costs? Other local, state, and federal programs may help you reduce other household expenses so you can focus on paying down your energy bills. Contact your county to inquire about emergency assistance. United Way’s 211 program is a good resource to identify any assistance programs you may be eligible for.
7. Local community organizations often have programs or funds to help community members in times of need, such as when a power disconnection is imminent. The Salvation Army offers a program called HeatShare, which provides cash grants and emergency assistance with utility and heating bills on a year-round basis. Consider other organizations including houses of worship, county assistance, or community social service agencies for emergency options to keep your power on. Students in college or vocational schools should consider contacting their institution’s student services to see if there are any assistance options available to them. K-12 school social workers may also be able to help families.
Receiving a disconnection notice can be a very scary experience, but there are many ways to navigate your way out of this tough situation. Reach out to CUB if you want help navigating the options available to you. If you need to talk to someone about your bill, we offer free energy bill consultations: we’ll review your bills for any spikes in usage, provide personalized strategies to reduce your energy consumption, and point you towards resources that would be a good fit for you.
Check out our events page for our monthly Energy Bill Consultations. If none of those times work for you, reach out to our Outreach Director, Carmen Carruthers, directly at email@example.com or at 651-300-4701, ext. 2.
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