Department of Public Service

Consumer Guide: The Handbook for Utility Customers with Disabilities



The New York State Public Service Law and the Public Service Commission's Telephone Rules offers protections for residential gas, electric, and steam consumers, including special protections for gas, electric, steam and telephone consumers with special skills.

Gas Electric & SteamTelephone Related Matters


Gas, Electric & Steam

Protections
Applications for Service
Suspensions & Shutoff Notices
Payment Agreements
Restrictions on Service Shut Off
Medical Emergencies
2 Family Dwellings/Apartment
Deposits
Payment Dates
Third-Party Notification

Special Protections
Qualifications
Personal Contact Before Shutoff
Special Rule for Life Support Systems


Telephone

Protections
Applications for Service
Suspensions & Shutoff Notices
Payment Agreements
Restrictions on Service Shut Off
Medical Emergencies
Deposits
Payment Dates
Third-Party Notification

Special Protections
Qualifications
Extra Notification Before Shutoff


You'll also find information on:
  • How to file a complaint about your utility bill or service
  • Options for telephone consumers
  • Special telephone equipment and service options available to consumers with disabilities;
  • Energy and heat assistance programs in New York State.

Protections for Utility Customers

Residential Gas, Electric, and Steam Consumers

Residential gas, electric, and steam consumers are protected by the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA), also known as "The Utility Consumers' Bill of Rights." The law went into effect in 1981 and helps keep gas, electric and steam service on. It establishes, among other rights, protections against shutoffs, restrictions on deposits and the right to a payment plan. Here are some highlights of the Home Energy Fair Practices Act:

Applications for Service
  • You don't have to fill out an application for gas, electric or steam service unless you owe money to the utility from a previous account in your name, or the people who lived in the place you are moving into owe the company money.
  • If you owe money to the utility on a previous account, you can get service by paying what you owe or by working out an installment plan to pay what you owe.

Shutoff Notices
  • Your utility cannot send you a final shutoff notice until at least 23 days after the bill was mailed.
  • The shutoff notice must give you 15 more days to pay the bill, work out a payment plan, or contact the company for help before the actual shutoff can take place.

Payment Agreements
  • Your utility company must offer you the opportunity to pay any overdue amounts in installments.
  • This option to work out a payment plan must be offered to you at least five days before the shutoff (eight days if the offer is made by mail and in writing).
  • The plan, and any required down payment, must be fair. If you can't reach a satisfactory agreement with your utility, call the Public Service Commission's HOTLINE at 1-800- 342-3355 (voice only).

Restrictions on Service Shutoff
  • Service can be shut off for non-payment of bills only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday through Thursday.
  • Service cannot be shut off for non-payment on a public holiday, the day before a holiday, the two-week period which includes Christmas and New Year's Day, or on a day before your utility business office closed.

Medical Emergencies
  • If you cannot pay your bill and you or anyone in your household is ill and needs electric, gas or steam service, shutoff of service may be postponed for 30 days, as long as your doctor or local Board of Health notifies the utility.
  • After the 30 days are up, additional extensions may be granted, as long as your doctor or local Board of Health certifies that the condition still exists and you show that you still can't pay the bill.

Two-Family Dwellings and Apartment Buildings
  • If you live in a two-family building or a building with three or more apartments where your utility service is included in your rent, your utility company must give you 15 days notice before it can shut off service.
  • This notice must be posted in a common area of the building, such as a lobby and at each entrance. In addition, the notice must be mailed or otherwise delivered to each tenant.
  • Special notice must be given during the cold weather protection period (November 1 to April 15) before any heat related utility service can be shut off. The utility must notify each tenant that service will be shut off and must also attempt to find out if a serious health or safety program would be caused in the household by the shutoff.
  • Gas or electric service may be kept on by paying -- or joining with other tenants to pay - - the current bill. Under New York State's Real Property Law, amounts paid to the utility company can be taken off your rent.

Deposits
  • New customers do not have to pay deposits.
  • If you don't pay two bills in a row, you can be asked for a deposit (except for, in most cases, senior citizens and consumers who receive public assistance).
  • If you must pay a deposit, you can pay it in installments over a 12-month period.
  • If you pay your bills on time for one year, you can get your deposit back, with interest.

Payment Dates
  • If you are on a fixed income, you have the right to change the date your utility bill is due so you can be sure it will be paid on time. For example, if your monthly check comes on the 3rd of the month and your gas, electric or steam bill is due on the 5th, you can ask your utility to move the due date to later in the month.

Third-Party Notification
  • You can have the utility also send credit and shutoff notices to a third person (a friend or relative, for example), as long as he or she agrees in writing to get such notices.
  • The third person would not be responsible for paying your bill, but would be asked to make sure that you know you owe money and are in danger of having your service shut off.



Telephone Consumers

Residential telephone customers in New York State are protected by the Public Service Commission's Telephone Rules, which were passed by the PSC in 1984 and are the first of their kind in the nation. Like the Home Energy Fair Practices Act, the Telephone Rules help keep service on by establishing protections against shutoffs, restrictions on deposits 
and the right to a payment plan. Here are some of the highlights of the PSC's Telephone Rules:

Applications for Service
  • You don't have to fill out an application for telephone service unless you owe money to a utility from a previous account in your name, or the people who lived in the place you are moving into owe the company money.
  • If you owe money on a previous account, you can still get telephone service by paying what you owe or by working out an installment plan to pay what you owe.

Suspensions & Shutoffs
  • Your phone company cannot send a suspension or shutoff notice until at least 25 days after the bill date. (Suspension of service means that you can get calls but not make calls; shutoff of service means that you can't make or get calls.)
  • Your phone company must make a special effort to contact you by telephone or in person at least eight days before a scheduled suspension or shutoff to try to work out a payment plan.

Payment Agreements
  • Your phone company must offer you the opportunity to pay overdue amounts up to $450 in installments.
  • A payment agreement must be offered to you, in writing, at least six days before the suspension or shutoff.
  • The plan must be for a period of at least 10 months, unless you agree to a shorter period.
  • If you cannot reach a satisfactory agreement with your phone company, the Public Service Commission will help.

Restrictions on When Service Can be Shut Off
  • Service can be suspended or shut off for non-payment of bills only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
  • Service cannot be shut off for non-payment on a public holiday, the day before a holiday, the two-week period which includes Christmas and New Year's Day, or on a day before your utility business office closed.

Medical Emergencies
  • Suspension or shutoff can be postponed for 30 days if you cannot pay your bill and you or anyone in your household is ill and may need telephone service to call for an emergency medical assistance, as long as your doctor or local Board of Health notifies the utility.
  • After the 30 days are up, further extensions may be granted, as long as your doctor or local Board of Health certifies that the condition still exists and you show that you still cannot pay the bill.

Deposits
  • New customers do not have to pay deposits.
  • If you don't pay two bills in a row, you can be asked to pay a deposit (except for, in most cases, senior citizens and consumers who receive public assistance).
  • If you must pay a deposit, you can pay it in installments over a six-month period.
  • If you pay you bills on time for one year, you can get your deposit back, with interest.

Payment Dates
  • If you are on a fixed income, you have the right to change the date your phone bill will be paid so you can pay your bill on time. For example, if your monthly check comes on the 3rd of the month and your phone bill is due on the 5th, you can ask the utility to move the due date to later in the month.

Third-Party Notification
  • You can have the utility also send credit and shutoff notices to a third person (a friend or relative, for example), as long as he or she agrees in writing to get such notices.
  • The third person would not be responsible for paying your bill, but would be asked to make sure that you know you owe money and are in danger of having your service suspended or shut off.

Special Protections for Disabled Consumers

Qualifications
  • If you are blind or otherwise challenged or 62 years of age or older (provided all remaining members of your household are blind or otherwise challenged, or 18 years of age or younger, or 62 years of age or older), you are eligible for the special protections.
  • Under the law, . . . . a person shall be considered blind if the person has central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees shall be considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or
  • less. . . . Further, . . . . . the term disability means physical, mental or medical impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological or neurological conditions which prevent the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. . . .
  • If you have questions about whether you qualify under these definitions, you should contact: The New York State Office of the Advocate for the Disabled, toll-free at : 1-800-522-4369 (voice & TTY/TDD or the regional office of the New York State Division of Human Rights).
  • If you qualify for the special protections, inform your utility companies to be sure that you receive every protection you are entitled to if you are ever in danger of utility service shutoff!

Gas, Electric and Steam Customers

Personal Contact Before Shutoff
  • Your utility company must call or, if they can't reach you, make a personal visit to your home 72 hours before a scheduled shutoff to try to work out a payment plan.
  • If a plan can't be worked out, the utility must notify the Department of Social Services and continue service.
  • Due to the cold weather protection period (November 1 to April 15), if your utility 
  • service is for heat, the utility must contact you by phone or in person 72 hours before the scheduled shutoff. The company must also contact you in person at the time of the scheduled shutoff to find out if you or someone in your household would be likely to suffer a serious health or safety problem as a result of the shutoff.
  • If there is a problem, the utility must notify the Department of Social Services and continue service.

Special Rule for Life Support Systems
  • If you cannot pay your bill and you need utility service to operate life support equipment, such as dialysis machine or respirator, you can get certification from your doctor or the local Board of Health so that the utility service will remain on as long as the equipment is needed.

Telephone Customers

Extra Notification Before Shutoff
  • If you are blind or otherwise challenged, you have 28 days after receiving notice before your service can be suspended and 40 days after receiving notice before your service can be shut off




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