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

Many residents are suddenly 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 knows their rights and where they can go for help if they need it.

Currently, your service will not be shut off if you receive electric, gas, and water from your utility.  But you should try to pay your utilities bill for as long as you are able.  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, reach out to your utility before you miss a payment. 

You can also contact your utility to discuss payment options specific to you and contact the AGO’s Consumer Hotline at 617-727-8400 if you have trouble reaching your utility.  Keep a record of the dates and times you contact your utility and the answers you receive.  Read on below for more details on your rights as a utility customer and the wide range of resources available to help Massachusetts residents pay their utility bills.

 

 

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How can I keep my utilities from being shut off?

Currently, your service will not be shut off if you receive electric, gas, and water from your utility.  The moratorium on shut offs will continue for the duration of the Commonwealth’s state of emergency, or pursuant to an order from the Chair of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), whichever comes first. 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 if I can't afford my bills or can only afford a portion?

Try and pay your utility bills for as long as you are able.  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, reach out to your utility before you miss a payment. This will decrease the chance that missed payments will affect your credit score. 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.

While LIHEAP assistance is typically only available during the “heating season” in Massachusetts (November – April), the application deadline to receive LIHEAP funds for the 2019-2020 season has been extended through May 29, 2020. 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 the applicant’s gross household income for the past 4 weeks

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 as low-income, you can contact your 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. 

Additionally, 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.

What should I do if I don't qualify for any assistance, but am still struggling to pay my bills?

You should reach out to your utility and speak with a customer service representative to discuss the options available to help you manage your bill payments. Most utilities currently offer deferred payment plans to help pay back any overdue amounts and stay current on your payments. 

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.

What else can I do to keep my energy bills as low as possible?

You can consider contacting Mass Save at 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.

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. - 6 p.m.

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