2010-12-31 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Cold Weather Energy Service Protections
Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

The first stretch of cold weather has announced the arrival of another New York winter. Residents are adding extra blankets to beds and cranking up the thermostat to shield themselves and loved ones from winter’s chill. Fortunately for residential utility customers, special winter weather protections provided under state law and regulation are now in effect. It is important to be aware of these and other important rules protecting customers during the coldest months.

The New York State Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA) is an expansive consumer protection statute aimed at ensuring that residential utility customers receive fair treatment from their service provider, whether it be a traditional energy supplier or an Energy Service Company. Under the Act, service providers who intend to terminate service due to lack of payment must provide a final termination notice to the customer and then wait fifteen days before terminating service, allowing the customer the time to pay any overdue amount or set up a payment plan. During the winter heating season, from November 1 to April 15, service providers must take extra steps prior to shutting off a customer’s heat-related service, which includes natural gas service and electric service powering a residential heating system. In addition to the fifteen-day final termination notice, if a provider has initiated an effort to terminate a heat-related service, they must attempt to contact the customer by telephone at least three days before the scheduled shut-off date, and, if the provider is unable to make contact via telephone, it must attempt to contact the customer in person.

Once contact has been established with the customer, HEFPA requires the utility representative to describe the reasons for the proposed termination of service, provide information about the protections provided under the Act, and attempt to develop a workable payment plan. Service providers must make a determination as to whether the proposed termination of the heat-related service could significantly impair the health and safety of the customer or any other household member.

If the provider determines that shutting off service may pose a health hazard, it must contact the local Department of Social Services, which will conduct an investigation, and continue service for an additional fifteen days.

The Act also protects consumers that live in apartment buildings or multi-family dwellings where the landlord pays for the electric or natural gas service.

During the winter months period of November 1 to April 15, the notification period is extended to thirty days.

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