Hugh Brower of South Windsor became one of the first customers of Connecticut Light & Power to feel the impact of the company’s new shutoff policy, which is intended to pressure customers to pay their bills faster.
Less than a week after his bill was due last month, Brower received a shutoff notice warning him that he was going to lose his electric service unless he paid quickly. He was also assessed the customary late fee.
It’s part of CL&P’s new, get-tough policy – and a move the other electric utility in the state, United Illuminating, is not willing to make.
CL&P, Connecticut’s largest electric utility, told utility regulators last month it will now be prepared to shut off a customer’s service if their bill is 50 days outstanding. Prior to that, the company held off for 75 days before taking that step.
Brower paid his March bill of $214.97 in full on April 6. He then received his next bill on April 12 for $177.76.
“Then last week, just 30 days after receiving that April bill, I got a disconnect notice in the mail,” he wrote me. “I had yet to mail my check to them, but I still couldn’t understand why they were willing to turn off a customer’s service when the bill is only 30 days old.”
“That’s really unbelievable,” said Brower, who says he never before had gotten such a notice. “If they’re doing it to me they have to be doing it to other people. I’m lucky I didn’t go away on vacation or I might have come home to a house with no power and rotting food in the fridge!”
CL&P spokesman David Radanovich declined to comment on Brower’s complaint and declined to discuss his company’s new policy for its 1.2 million customers. If he had been willing to talk, I would have asked whether CL&P pays all its bills within 30 days.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the policy appears legal, but stated that it “comes at the worst possible economic time.”
The new policy is “at least morally — even financially — questionable,” Blumenthal said in a prepared statement in response to my questions. “While complete non-payment of bills may increase rates for all, reaching prompt and affordable payment plans could increase collectables – avoiding shutoffs for struggling families and allowing CL&P to recover its revenue.”
UI — which serves customers in southwest Connecticut — says it too is facing a much larger collectible issue, but its policy is to work with customers to help them reduce electric use and to help set up payment plans. Shutting off power is the last resort for UI, which has a much better customer service record than CL&P.
UI Vice President Joseph Thomas says his company has no plans to cut its 74-day wait period before shutoffs.
CL&P’s new policy, according to its April letter to regulators, include the following:
1) Currently, the Companies’ disconnect process takes approximately 75 days from the date the customer receives his first bill to the time he is eligible to be disconnected. With this revised process, the customer will be eligible for disconnect 50 days after he receives his first bill.
2) Accounts will enter the disconnect process when they are $75 delinquent (unchanged from current limit) and 35 days delinquent. Accounts currently enter the process when they are 38 days delinquent.
3) The Reminder letter which is currently sent to all first time delinquent customers will be eliminated.
4) A 13-day disconnect notice letter will be sent to the customer on Day 35, compared to current process of issuing the Reminder letter on Day 38.
5) Outside of the winter moratorium period (October 31 – May 2), the Companies will discontinue sending the Final Appeal or 72-hour notice. Currently, 72-hour notices are sent 10 days after the issuance of the 13-day disconnect notice to disconnect notice recipients who have not paid their delinquent balance or entered into a payment arrangement.
6) The Companies will undertake an outbound calling campaign during the 7 days after disconnect notices are sent.
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