How can I keep my utilities from being shut off?
Between November 15th and March 15th, residential customers are protected from utility shut off if the utility service is needed to heat your home and you receive service from an investor-owned utility, such as Eversource, National Grid, Unitil, Liberty Utilities, or Berkshire Gas.
At all other times, if you are experiencing financial hardship and one of the following applies, your electric or gas cannot be shut off without permission from the Department of Public Utilities:
- You, or someone in your home, is seriously ill;
- You have an infant under 12 months in your home; and
- All adults in the home are age 65 or older and a minor child resides in the home.
In addition, payment plans are available to avoid shut off and manage utility bills. If you are a residential customer struggling to pay your utility bills, behind on your payments, or interested in more regular payments, reach out to your electric or gas utility to discuss available payment plans and payment assistance programs that may be available. Residential customers making payments under payment plans with their investor-owned electric or gas utility will remain protected from shut-off as long as they make payments under the payment schedule.
If you are served by a municipal utility, it may or may not be shutting off customers for unpaid bills. If you receive residential electric or gas service through a municipal utility, contact them directly to find out more about their shut-off policy and to hear about available payment assistance programs.
Why are electric rates going up this winter?
Inflation and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine are driving up fossil fuel prices and in turn energy rates for customers across the country this winter.
What can I do to manage my costs with these high rates?
Take steps to reduce your overall energy usage this winter, which should in turn help you lower your utility bill. Customers should consider the following:
- Contact Mass Save for an energy efficiency audit to see how you can make your home or business more efficient, reduce your overall energy use, and lower your monthly utility bill over time.
Install a programmable thermostat.
Replaced outdated light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified light bulbs.
Consider solar energy to reduce electricity usage.
Customers who are interested in installing solar panels or enrolling with community solar programs should visit the AG’s Office FAQ with consumer tips at mass.gov/ago/solar.
What if I can't afford my bills, even on a payment plan?
The more you pay now the less you will have to make up later. If you are struggling to pay your electric or gas utility bills, reach out to your utility to discuss available payment plans, arrearage forgiveness programs and other payment assistance programs. Your electric or gas utility may be able to arrange a new payment plan that you can afford and, at the same time, the utility can also check your eligibility to participate in a range of payment assistance programs (see discussion below about available residential electric or gas payment assistance programs).
I received a notice saying that I might lose my electric or gas service. What do I do?
If you received a shut-off notice from your electric or gas utility, call your utility immediately and ask to enroll in a payment plan. Also ask your electric or gas utility if you qualify for an arrearage forgiveness program or any other payment assistance program. Payment plans can help avoid service shut-offs.
For small business customers of an investor-owned utility, enrolling in a payment plan may protect your business from electric or gas shut off if you cannot afford your current balance. Call your electric or gas utility immediately to enroll. If you are a customer of a municipal utility, call your municipal utility immediately to ask about any assistance programs that may be available.
I own a small business. What programs are available?
If a small business enrolls in an electric or gas payment plan with its investor-owned utility company and the business makes its payments, it will be protected from electric or gas service disconnection for the duration of the payment plan. Small business customers may also qualify for payment plans that include arrearage forgiveness. To learn about these payment programs, and whether they are offered by your utility, please contact your utility. If you are a small business customer that receives electric or gas service through a municipal utility, call your municipal utility to see what programs they offer to help avoid disconnection.
What types of residential electric or gas payment assistance programs are available?
If you qualify as income eligible, there are several programs, including: (1) Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federally-funded program that helps Massachusetts residents pay their heating bills; (2) the low-income discount rate program for investor-owned electric and gas utility customers; and (3) arrearage management programs (AMPs) for investor-owned electric and gas utility customers.
LIHEAP is available this winter heating season from November 1, 2022 to April 30, 2023. Applications for LIHEAP for the 2022-2023 heating season can be submitted now and throughout the winter heating season. Visit here or the Cold Relief Heatline at (800) 632-8175 to find your local community action agency where you can apply for LIHEAP.
Other assistance programs for income-eligible customers are available year-round through investor-owned gas and electric utilities, including a low-income discount rate program, which helps make bills more manageable, and an arrearage management program (AMP), which helps customers who have an unpaid balance on their bill and are struggling to pay. The AMP provides customers with the opportunity to have all or a portion of an arrearage (or outstanding unpaid amounts due) forgiven in exchange for payments of an amount and on a schedule designed individually for each participant.
The AGO encourages you to contact your electric or gas utility if the recent COVID-19 crisis has significantly impacted your household income because you may be newly eligible for other assistance programs. Please see below for contact numbers for each investor-owned electric and gas utility.
How do I know if I am eligible to receive residential electric or gas payment assistance programs?
If your household income is 60% or less of the state median income, you are eligible for LIHEAP.
This chart from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) provides more detailed household income information. Income eligibility is evaluated based on your gross household income for the past 4 weeks. Many customers’ financial situations have changed during the pandemic. You may be eligible for assistance now, even if you have not been eligible in the past.
DHCD has a toll-free hotline, 1-800-632-8175, that is multi-language and will quickly direct you to your local community action agency that can help answer additional questions about eligibility and process your LIHEAP application. You can also go to www.heatinghelpma.org to find more information about your local community action agency and eligibility.
To be eligible for your electric or gas utility’s low-income discount rate program or the arrearage management program (AMP), you must either qualify for LIHEAP funding, or receive food, cash, or medical benefits from the state.
If your household income is between 60 to 80% of the state median income, you may be able to receive help from the Good Neighbor Energy Fund.
Are there any payment assistance programs available to me if I don't qualify as low-income?
If you do not qualify for a low-income program, contact your electric or gas utility to learn about deferred payment arrangements. Most Massachusetts investor-owned electric and gas utility companies offer deferred payment arrangements which allow the customer to set up a customized, manageable payment plan.
Utilities also offer another way to stay on top of your bills called budget billing. Budget billing equalizes monthly payments over the course of 12 months so that you pay a predictable amount each month instead of seeing your bill amount fluctuate depending on the season, the price of energy, and customer usage.
In addition to requesting assistance from your electric or gas utility, residential customers should also contact their local community action agency, as there may be funds available to assist households who earn more than 60 % of the state median income, but still need assistance paying their bills. Visit www.mass211.org or dial 211 to find your local agency.
How can I contact my utility?
What else can I do to keep my energy bills as low as possible?
You can consider contacting Mass Save for an energy efficiency audit. An increase in your home’s energy efficiency should result in lower utility bills over time.
What else should I look at when I get my energy bill?
You should also closely review your electric and gas utility bills to determine whether you are buying your electric or gas supply from your utility or from another entity, often called a competitive supplier.
If your bill lists a competitive supplier that you do not recognize, there are two possibilities.
One possibility is that you are participating in your city or town’s community choice electric plan. Under these programs, your city or town negotiates a supply rate with a competitive supplier for its residents. These programs are voluntary, and you can opt out at any time. However, you may want to stay with your community choice program this winter because many cities and towns currently have electricity rates that are lower than the rate available from the electric company. If you are unsure whether the supplier on your bill is part of a community choice electric plan, call or check your city or town’s website to find out. For more information on community choice electric plans, also known as municipal aggregations, visit this website maintained by the Department of Public Utilities here.
A second possibility is that you are receiving supply from a competitive supplier that markets and sells to individual customers. If one of these suppliers is on your bill, it is possible that one of these companies switched your electricity supply without your permission. If you have been switched without your permission, you should file a complaint with the Department of Public Utilities.
Individual competitive suppliers (in other words, suppliers that are not part of a community choice program) often charge higher rates than your utility’s rates. The AGO issued a 2018 report and 2019 update, and 2021 update that found that Massachusetts customers typically lost money on competitive electric supply.
If you get your electricity or gas from an individual competitive supplier and are paying a high rate, consider canceling your contract so that you may return to buying your electric and gas supply from your utility (often called “basic service”).
You can check out current and historic basic service rates here.
What if I want to sign up with a competitive supplier so that I can receive a lower rate?
The AGO strongly urges any Massachusetts consumer who considers signing up with a competitive supplier to read the AGO’s FAQs on electric supply options here.
In addition, any Massachusetts consumer who signs a contract with a competitive supplier should actively monitor their electric supply costs each month to ensure the rate that the supplier charges them is the same rate that was agreed to under the contract. Massachusetts consumers should also take steps to avoid an “automatic renewal” of their supply contract. Automatic renewals often lead to customers paying higher rates.
I have more questions. Who can I contact for help?
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