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CA Orders Measures to Reduce Low-Income Customer Shut-Offs

March 29, 2012—The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on March 22 approved several measures to reduce the number of residential energy customer service disconnections, especially for low-income customers, in the service areas of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE).

The CPUC opened this proceeding in February 2010 to reduce the number of residential gas and electric service disconnections due to nonpayment by customers, with a goal to reexamine utility disconnection rules and practices to identify more effective ways for utilities to work with their customers.

The decision directed PG&E and SCE to:

  • Ensure that their customer service representatives (CSRs) offer customers the option of enrollment in the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), a low-income discount program, by telephone discussion with a CSR.
  • Provide key information, including the fact that service is at risk and a way to follow up for additional information, in large print - for any written communication to customers concerning the risk of service disconnection.
  • Provide all information concerning the risk of disconnection in the customer's preferred format - for customers who have previously been identified as disabled and who have identified a preferred form of communication.
  • Ensure that outgoing calls regarding the risk of disconnection are made by a live representative - for households identified as using non-standard forms of telecommunication.
  • Inform any customer that owes an arrearage on a utility bill that puts the customer at risk for disconnection that the customer has a right to arrange a bill payment plan extending for a minimum of three months the period in which to repay the arrearage.
  • Allow CSRs the discretion to extend the period in which to pay the arrearage from three months up to 12 months.
  • Provide that CARE and Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) customers are not required to pay additional reestablishment of credit deposits with a utility for either slow-payment/no-payment of bills or following a disconnection.
  • Provide that medical baseline customers, life support customers, and customers who certify that they have a serious illness or condition that could become life threatening if service is disconnected will not be disconnected without an in-person visit from a utility representative.
  • Collect from customers a reestablishment of credit deposit following a disconnection based on twice the average monthly bill, rather than twice the maximum monthly bill.
  • Not collect credit deposits for late payment of bills.

For more information, the decision is available on CPUC's website.

Source: CPUC