The End of the Winter Moratorium
What is the winter moratorium?
The winter moratorium applies to customers who are certified eligible for LIHEAP assistance. "LIHEAP" stands for the low-income home energy assistance program. It is a federal program to help low-income people with their utility costs. People can apply for LIHEAP at their local Community Action Agency.
The winter moratorium on shutting off utility service runs from November 1 through April 1 of each year. During this time, LIHEAP-certified customers of gas and electric services have special protections. Gas and electric utilities cannot be shut off if someone is eligible for (LIHEAP). It is still very important for customers who get help from LIHEAP to keep paying on their utility bill during this time. It can cost a lot to heat a house during the winter months. Not paying monthly bills during the winter months can result in a big problem after April 1, 2005. The past due bill from the winter months may be so high that the customer cannot pay it. This is why it is very important to keep paying on your utility bills during the winter moratorium.
What if I have a past due utility bill at the end of the winter moratorium?
If there is a big past due bill at the end of the moratorium, the utility company can and probably will send a notice after April 1. The notice will say the utility service will be shut off if the past due bill is not paid or if payment arrangements are not made. However, utility companies must offer a payment agreement to most customers with past due balances. They do not have to offer a payment agreement to a customer who is already in default on a payment agreement. Details on who qualifies for a second payment agreement are included in this article.
What if I make a late payment while I am on a payment agreement?
There are new regulations on payment agreements. A customer entering into a first payment agreement must be allowed at least one late payment (no more than 4 days late). The first payment agreement remains in effect if the customer is late once.
I defaulted on a first payment agreement. Does the utility have to give me another?
In some cases a utility must offer a second payment agreement. The utility must offer a second payment agreement to a customer who is in default of a first payment agreement if the customer made at least two full payments in a row under the first payment agreement. The second payment agreement must be of the same length or longer than the term of the first payment agreement.
For example, if the first payment agreement was for 12 months, the second payment agreement must be for 12 months or longer. The customer can be required to pay for current service plus the monthly payments for the past due bill as part of the second payment agreement. Also, the customer may be required to make the first payment up-front as a condition of entering into the second payment agreement. The utility company does not have to offer additional payment agreements if a customer defaults on a second agreement or does not make two consecutive payments on their first agreement.
If you run into problems with your utility service, you may wish to contact the Iowa Utilities Board and/or your local Iowa Legal Aid office. Helping clients with consumer issues, including essential services like utilities, is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid.