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

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

If you are a residential customer struggling to pay your utility bills or behind on your payments, reach out to your utility to discuss available payment plans. Utilities may resume shut offs for residential customers beginning November 16, 2020.

If you are a small business customer, the moratorium on shut offs for commercial customers ended on August 31, 2020.  If you are behind on your payments or fear your business will be shut off, please reach out to your utility to discuss available payment plans.

If you enroll in a payment plan and make your payments, you will be protected from service disconnection for the duration of your payment plan

Eversource and National Grid are providing multilingual webinars so you can learn more about discount rates, grants, payments, and other offers. You can find webinar dates and register here

Table of Contents

How can I keep my utilities from being shut off?

Currently, if you are a residential customer, your service will not be shut off if you receive electric, gas, and water from your utility.  The moratorium on shut offs, however, will be ending soon.  Under the current Order of Department of Public Utilities (DPU), utilities may resume shut offs for residential customers beginning November 16, 2020.  If you are a commercial customer, the moratorium on shut offs for commercial customers ended on August 31, 2020.

If you are behind on your bill, you should contact your utility company and ask about payment plans and other ways to reduce your energy use and bills.

If you enroll in a payment plan and make your payments, you will be protected from service disconnection for the duration of your payment plan. 

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

If you receive electric, gas, or water from a utility owned by your town or city, the utility is likely voluntarily complying with the moratorium on shut offs.  If you experience any issues with shut offs with your town’s or city’s utility, please contact the AGO’s Consumer Hotline at 617-727-8400.

Do I have to keep paying my utility bill?

The moratorium on shut offs does not provide for free electricity, gas or water service.  You are still responsible for paying for the utility services that you use.

What about other shut off protections, like the winter heating moratorium?

Residential customers are still protected from utility disconnection between November 15 and March 15 if they are experiencing a financial hardship and the utility service is needed for heating. More information about the shut-off protections available to qualifying Massachusetts residents can be found here.  Shut-off protection, like the winter heating moratorium, does not mean free utility service, however. Making no payments during shut-off protection means a larger utility bill to pay later. The AG’s Office strongly encourages residents that are struggling financially to contact their utility company and discuss enrollment in a payment plan that will also provide shut-off protection and potentially balance forgiveness.

What if I can't afford my bills or can only afford a portion?

The more you pay now the less you will have to make up later.  If you are struggling to pay your utility bills and you think you will fall behind or have fallen behind, reach out to your utility to discuss your payment options.  Your utility may be able to arrange a payment plan and/or check your eligibility to participate in a range of payment assistance programs (see discussion below). 

What types of payment assistance programs are available?

If you qualify as low-income, there are several programs, including: Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federally-funded program that helps Massachusetts residents pay their heating bills; and the low-income discount rate program and arrearage management programs (AMPs) for 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, electric and gas utility customers who qualify as low-income are eligible to receive a low-income discount rate on their bill and to participate in AMP. The AMP provides low-income 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 help from 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 situation 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 utility to learn about flexible payment plans that each utility is now offering to residential and small business customers.

Massachusetts utilities are currently authorized to provide payment plans up to 12 months for residential and small business customers that are behind in their payments.

Certain small business customers may also qualify for payment plans that include arrearage forgiveness.  To learn about these payment programs, please contact your utility:

Eversource

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

National Grid

  • 800-322-3223 

Unitil

  • 888-301-7700

Liberty

  • 800-544-4944

Columbia Gas of MA

  • 800-688-6160

Berkshire Gas

  • 800-292-5012

In addition to requesting assistance from your 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 percent 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

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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