PUC offers utility protections for struggling families and businesses

HARRISBURG—The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has adopted a series of enhanced consumer protections intended to safeguard families and small businesses who are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic – and also has established a framework for future discussions about utility assistance and economic recovery.

Moving forward, while still acknowledging that the pandemic and its economic effects have

not disappeared, requires a mix of holistic, short-term and long-term solutions to offer

customers protections and ensure the payment of bills from customers that are able to pay.  

The consumer safeguards and monthly reports established in the motion will remain in effect no later than March 31, 2021, unless the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation is rescinded before that date or the Commission establishes a different timeframe.

Enhanced Consumer Protections. The PUC has adopted new safeguards for “protected customers” – those residential households hardest hit by the economic downturn triggered by COVID-19, along with aid for small businesses:

No Terminations for “Protected Customers” – Utilities shall not terminate service for residential customers with incomes within 300% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines (FPIG), unless otherwise authorized by the Commission. These “protected customers” must apply for all available assistance programs and must request a payment arrangement from the utility, if appropriate.

Special Outreach to Customers At-Risk of Termination – Utilities must reach out to individual residential and commercial customers whose unpaid balances put them at-risk of termination after the PUC moratorium is lifted, detailing their options for addressing any overdue balances and a general time range for possible termination. This communication must be sent to customers at least 10 days prior to the traditional 10-day termination notice.

Payment Arrangements for Small Businesses – Utilities shall offer a payment arrangement for a period of no less than 18 months to small business customers, as defined by a utility’s tariff.  A small business customer who remains current on its payment arrangement and current bill shall not be terminated.

Waiver of Connection/Reconnection Fees – Utilities shall waive all connection, reconnection and deposit fees for protected customers. 

No Late Payment Charges – Late payment charges are waived for protected customers.

Additional Medical Certificates – Two additional medical certificates shall be accepted by utilities for eligible customers who have exhausted the number otherwise available, with an additional seven days for medical professionals to return medical certificates to the utility.

Flexible Income Verification – Utilities and the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services can utilize flexible methods to verify customer income for assistance programs, payment plans and qualification as a protected customer – such as over-the-phone or e-mail.

Termination and collections can resume Nov. 9 for customers able to pay.

With these enhanced safeguards in place for struggling households and small businesses, the PUC’s emergency moratorium on all other utility terminations will be lifted, effective Nov. 9, 2020.

This applies to all electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction.

Because of the dynamic nature of the pandemic, the Commission will revisit these protections during the first quarter of 2021, based on the trajectory of the pandemic and the status of the economy at that time.