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Frequently Asked Questions about Electric and Gas Utilities during COVID-19

Many residents are struggling to pay their bills, including their monthly utility bills. Electricity and Gas are essential services—that’s why it is important that customers know their rights and where they can go for help if they need it.

Table of Contents

How can I keep my utilities from being shut off?

If you are a residential customer, your electric or gas service will not be shut off if you receive electric or gas service from an investor-owned utility, such as Eversource, National Grid, Unitil, Liberty Utilities, or Berkshire Gas. Due to the pandemic, the current moratorium on residential electric and gas shut-offs has been extended through April 1, 2021.

It is important, however, not to fall behind on your bills. If you are a residential customer struggling to pay your utility bills or behind on your payments, reach out to your electric or gas utility to discuss available payment plans and payment assistance programs that may be available. Paying what you can will help avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends. Residential customers making payments under payment plans with their investor-owned electric or gas utility will remain protected from shut-off after the moratorium ends on April 1 for the duration of the payment plan.

If you receive residential electric or gas service through a municipal utility, most municipal utilities have agreed to suspend shut-offs until April 1, 2021. Call your municipal utility to find out its shut-off policy and any payment  assistance programs that may be available.

If you are a small business customer, however, you may be at risk to be shut off if you are behind on your bills. The moratorium on commercial shut-offs ended on August 31, 2020. Contact your electric or gas utility immediately to enroll in a payment plan that will protect you from losing your service. If you enroll in a payment plan with your investor-owned electric or gas utility and make your payments, you will be protected from service disconnection for the duration of your payment plan. If you receive electric or gas service through a municipal utility, call your municipal utility to see what programs they may offer to help you avoid disconnection.

Why should I pay my electric or gas bill or begin a payment plan during the shut-off moratorium?

Residential shut-off protection does not mean free utility service. You are still responsible for paying for the utility services that you use, even during a moratorium on shut-offs. Making no payments during shut-off protection means a larger utility bill and the possibility of disconnection once that protection ends. 

The AG’s Office strongly encourages residents and businesses that are struggling financially to contact their electric or gas utility service provider and discuss enrollment in a payment plan, which may also provide shut-off protection and balance forgiveness. 

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. 

Although most residential customers are protected from electric and gas shut-offs until April 1, 2021, your utility may offer a payment plan, arrearage forgiveness, or payment assistance programs that will help you avoid accumulating large balances on your bills during the moratorium. For customers of investor-owned electric and gas utilities, payment plans can also help avoid shut-off once the moratorium ends on April 1, 2021.

For small business customers of an investor-owned utility, enrolling in a payment plan can 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.

 

What if I am still receiving notices saying my residential electric or gas service will be shut-off, or my utility actually disconnects service to my home?

If you are a residential customer experiencing any issues with shut-offs with your utility, please contact the DPU’s Consumer Hotline at 617-737-2836.

If you receive electric or gas from a utility owned by your town or city, contact the utility to ask if the utility is voluntarily complying with the moratorium on residential shut-offs through April 1, 2021. If you experience any issues with shut-offs with your municipal utility, please contact the AGO’s Consumer Hotline at 617-727-8400.

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 payment plan that you can afford and also check your eligibility to participate in a range of payment assistance programs (see discussion below). 

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, please contact your utility.

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; and (3) arrearage management programs (AMPs) for investor-owned electric and gas utility customers.

LIHEAP assistance is typically only available during the “heating season” in Massachusetts, which is November through April. The AGO encourages you to apply for LIHEAP assistance, especially if the recent COVID-19 crisis has significantly impacted your household income. Please see below for more information about applying to LIHEAP.

In addition to LIHEAP, investor-owned electric and gas utility customers who qualify as income eligible are eligible to receive a low-income discount rate on their bill and to participate in AMP. The AMP provides income eligible customers an 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

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 will help answer additional questions about eligibility and process your LIHEAP application. In addition, you can 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.

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 flexible payment plans.  Massachusetts investor-owned electric and gas utility companies are currently authorized to provide payment plans up to 12 months for residential and small business customers that are behind in their payments.

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.

Additionally, if your household income is between 60 to 80 percent of the state median income, you may be able to receive help from the Good Neighbor Energy Fund.

Additional Resources

How can I contact my utility?

Electric and Gas Utility Contact Information is provided below:

Eversource

  • Eastern Mass: 866-861-6225 Western Mass: 877-963-2632

National Grid

Unitil

  • 888-301-7700

Liberty

  • 800-544-4944

Berkshire Gas

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.

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. Competitive suppliers often charge higher rates than your utility’s rates. The AGO issued a 2018 report and 2019 update that found that Massachusetts customers typically lost money on competitive electric supply.

If you are buying your supply from a competitive supplier, you can contact your supplier to negotiate a lower rate. If a lower rate is not available, ask about 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.

Another way to stay on top of your bills is to consider budget billing. Utilities also offer budget billing, which equalizes monthly payments over the course of 12 months.  Massachusetts utility costs often fluctuate depending on the season, the price of energy, and customer usage. Budget billing can help customers manage such swings through predictable bill payments.

Additional Resources

I have more questions. Who can I contact for help?

In addition to your utility, you can contact the Department of Public Utilities at 877-886-5066, or complete their online complaint form.

You can also file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's Consumer Advocacy and Response Division or by calling our hotline at 617-727-8400.

Contact

Phone

Consumer Hotline (617) 727-8400

Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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