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Disconnect and Debt Woes Mount This Heating Season

March 6, 2015— Iowa's largest utility providers reported recently that they have more than $36 million in unpaid utility bills owed to them. Over 1,000 homes have already been disconnected because of past due bills. Jerry McKim, Iowa's LIHEAP director, tells Radio Iowa that he is concerned about those people who are not involved in the LIHEAP program. He notes that there are laws that prevent a utility disconnect if a customer has not broken a payment agreement within the last 12 months. He also informed Iowans that utility companies must allow a minimum of 12 months to pay off a past due balance, and that a household's income is taken into account when the payment plans are made.

Iowa utility companies are not the only ones seeing large amounts of unpaid utility costs in their reports this year. A recent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer put the spotlight on Duke Energy's disconnect policies. Duke Energy, one of Ohio's largest utility companies with over 700,000 customers in southwest Ohio, reports disconnects nearly twice the average of the state's big four utility companies. At 13 percent, one in every eight customers is being cut off from power. Economists and Duke Energy are unsure why they have such a high percentage of past due bills, especially considering the fact that Cincinnati's economy is thriving.

The news report points out that Duke Energy had failed to send out "final notice" letters to all those customers who were disconnected. However, Ohio's definition of what constitutes a "final notice" is unclear according to not only Duke Energy, but also the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The Ohio Development Services Agency also stated that applications to the energy assistance programs it offers have been fewer this year. However, they have seen a 54.5 percent increase in Duke Energy customers applying for the Ohio Percentage of Income Payment Plan.

Source: Media reports