Utility Shut Offs As The Winter Moratorium Ends


March 2003

On April 1st, many Iowans could have their utilities shut off. Each year, the winter moratorium runs from November 1 to April 1. The winter moratorium is a time when customers of gas and electric services have special protections. During the moratorium, gas and electric utilities cannot be shut off if someone is eligible for and applied for energy assistance. Many people fell behind on their utility bills during the winter. This means many utility customers will be getting notices. The notices will say their utility service could be shut off after April 1, 2003 if they do not pay their back bills. This article will look at the options a customer has after the winter moratorium ends.

The utility company must first send a written notice to the customer that they plan to cut off service. The notice must be put in the mail at least 12 days before the utilities would be shut off. The company does not have to send a separate shut off notice. It can be part of the monthly bill. Customers should be sure to read their bills carefully. If the customer fell behind on a payment plan, the utility company does not have to give you written notice before shutting off service. The utility company must only try to reach you by phone or in person before it shuts off your service.

If you fell behind on your bill during the winter moratorium, the utility company may offer you a payment plan. If you have never been on a payment plan before, the utility company must offer one to you. If you have been on a payment plan in the past and fell behind on it, the utility company may offer you a payment plan, but they do not have to. The payment plan will only give you until October 15, 2003 to pay off your back bill. While you are on the payment plan, you also have to pay your current bill.

If you are eligible for and ask for a payment plan, the utility company will not be able to shut off your utilities for 30 days. If you fell behind in a payment plan before, the utility company does not have to offer you a second payment plan. If the utility company rejects your proposed payment plan, they must give you a written notice. The notice must tell you why they rejected your payment plan.

If you think the utility company incorrectly rejected your payment plan, you can file an appeal with the Iowa State Utilities Board. The written appeal needs to be filed within ten days of receipt of the written refusal. The Board can review the payment plan to decide if the utility company acted correctly. To reach the Board, write to:

Iowa State Utilities Board
Lucas State Office Building
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
or call (515)281-4602.

Iowa utility customers have other protections against shutoffs. Disconnection may be delayed in certain cases with a billing dispute, some health situations, and weather conditions. If the utility service is the only source of heat to the residence (space heaters operation of furnace, etc.), then the utility company cannot disconnect the utilities if the National Weather Service forecasts that during the next 24 hour period the temperature will be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the utility company can disconnect services when the temperature rises above 20 degrees Fahrenheit without any additional notices.

If you run into a problem with your utility service, you may wish to contact Iowa Legal Aid.