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Connecticut Public Acts 1996

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Substitute House Bill No. 5423

PUBLIC ACT NO. 96-204

AN ACT CONCERNING TERMINATION OF GAS SERVICE TO DELINQUENT RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Subsection (b) of section 16-262c of the general statutes, as amended by section 2 of public act 95-274, is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof:

(b) (1) [Notwithstanding any other provision of the general statutes, from] FROM November first to April fifteenth, inclusive, no electric [or gas] company and no municipal utility furnishing electricity [or gas] shall terminate or refuse to reinstate residential electric [or gas] service in hardship cases where the customer lacks the financial resources to pay his or her entire account. FROM NOVEMBER FIRST TO APRIL FIFTEENTH, INCLUSIVE, NO GAS COMPANY AND NO MUNICIPAL UTILITY FURNISHING GAS SHALL TERMINATE OR REFUSE TO REINSTATE RESIDENTIAL GAS SERVICE IN HARDSHIP CASES WHERE THE CUSTOMER USES SUCH GAS FOR HEAT AND LACKS THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO PAY HIS OR HER ENTIRE ACCOUNT, EXCEPT A GAS COMPANY THAT, BETWEEN APRIL SIXTEENTH AND OCTOBER THIRTY-FIRST, TERMINATED GAS SERVICE TO A RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMER WHO USES GAS FOR HEAT AND WHO, DURING THE PREVIOUS PERIOD OF NOVEMBER FIRST TO APRIL FIFTEENTH, HAD GAS SERVICE MAINTAINED BECAUSE OF HARDSHIP STATUS, MAY REFUSE TO REINSTATE THE GAS SERVICE FROM NOVEMBER FIRST TO APRIL FIFTEENTH, INCLUSIVE, ONLY IF THE CUSTOMER HAS FAILED TO PAY, SINCE APRIL FIFTEENTH, THE LESSER OF: (A) TWENTY PER CENT OF THE OUTSTANDING PRINCIPAL BALANCE OWED THE GAS COMPANY AS OF THE DATE OF TERMINATION, (B) ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, OR (C) THE MINIMUM PAYMENTS DUE UNDER THE CUSTOMER'S AMORTIZATION AGREEMENT. Notwithstanding any other provision of the general statutes to the contrary, no electric or gas company and no municipal utility furnishing electricity or gas shall terminate or refuse to reinstate residential electric or gas service where the customer lacks the financial resources to pay his or her entire account and for which customer or a member of the customer's household the termination or failure to reinstate such service would create a life-threatening situation. (2) [After April fifteenth and before November first] DURING ANY PERIOD IN WHICH A RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMER IS SUBJECT TO TERMINATION an electric or gas company or a municipal utility furnishing electricity or gas shall provide [any] SUCH residential customer whose account is delinquent an opportunity to enter into a reasonable amortization agreement with such company or utility to pay such delinquent account and to avoid termination of service. Such amortization agreement shall permit such customer adequate opportunity to apply for and receive the benefits of any available energy assistance program. [Nothing in this subdivision shall prohibit a company or a utility from providing a customer an opportunity to enter into a reasonable amortization agreement prior to April fifteenth.] An amortization agreement shall be subject to amendment on customer request if there is a change in the customer's financial circumstances. (3) As used in this section (A) "household income" means the combined income over a twelve-month period of the customer and all adults, except children of the customer, who are and have been members of the household for six months or more, and (B) "hardship case" includes, but is not limited to: (i) A customer receiving local, state or federal public assistance; (ii) a customer whose sole source of financial support is Social Security, Veterans' Administration or unemployment compensation benefits; (iii) a customer who is head of the household, is unemployed, and the household income is less than three hundred per cent of the poverty level determined by the federal government; (iv) a customer who is seriously ill or who has a household member who is seriously ill; (v) a customer whose income falls below one hundred twenty-five per cent of the poverty level determined by the federal government; and (vi) a customer whose circumstances threaten a deprivation of food and the necessities of life for himself or dependent children if payment of a delinquent bill is required. (4) In order for a residential customer of a gas public service company using gas for heat to be eligible to have any moneys due and owing deducted from the customer's delinquent account pursuant to this subdivision, the company furnishing gas shall require that the customer (A) apply and be eligible for benefits available under the Connecticut energy assistance program or state appropriated fuel assistance program; (B) authorize the company to send a copy of the customer's monthly bill directly to any energy assistance agency for payment; (C) enter into and comply with an amortization agreement, which agreement is consistent with decisions and policies of the Department of Public Utility Control. Such an amortization agreement shall reduce a customer's payment by the amount of the benefits reasonably anticipated from the Connecticut energy assistance program, state appropriated fuel assistance program, or other energy assistance sources. Unless the customer requests otherwise, the company shall budget a customer's payments over a twelve-month period with an affordable increment to be applied to any arrearage, provided such payment plan will not result in loss of any energy assistance benefits to the customer. If a customer authorizes the company to send a copy of his monthly bill directly to any energy assistance agency for payment, the energy assistance agency shall make payments directly to the company. If, on April thirtieth, a customer has been in compliance with the requirements of subparagraphs (A) to (C), inclusive, of this subdivision, during the period starting on the preceding November first, or from such time as the customer's account becomes delinquent, the company shall deduct from such customer's delinquent account an additional amount equal to the amount of money paid by the customer between the preceding November first and April thirtieth and paid on behalf of the customer through the Connecticut energy assistance program and state appropriated fuel assistance program. Any customer in compliance with the requirements of subparagraphs (A) to (C), inclusive, of this subdivision, on April thirtieth who continues to comply with an amortization agreement through the succeeding October thirty-first, shall also have an amount equal to the amount paid pursuant to such agreement and any amount paid on behalf of such customer between May first and the succeeding October thirty-first deducted from the customer's delinquent account. In no event shall the deduction of any amounts pursuant to this subdivision result in a credit balance to the customer's account. No customer shall be denied the benefits of this subdivision due to an error by the gas public service company. The Department of Public Utility Control shall allow the amounts deducted from the customer's account pursuant to the implementation plan, described in subdivision (5) of this subsection, to be recovered by the company in its rates as an operating expense, pursuant to said implementation plan. If the customer fails to comply with the terms of the amortization agreement or any decision of the department rendered in lieu of such agreement and the requirements of subparagraphs (A) to (C), inclusive, of this subdivision, the company may terminate service to the customer, pursuant to all applicable regulations, provided such termination shall not occur between November first and April fifteenth. (5) Each gas public service company shall submit to the Department of Public Utility Control annually, on or before July first, an implementation plan which shall include information concerning amortization agreements, counseling, reinstatement of eligibility, rate impacts and any other information deemed relevant by the department. The Department of Public Utility Control shall, in consultation with the Office of Policy and Management, and after a hearing, approve or modify such plan within ninety days of receipt of the plan. Any amount recovered by a company in its rates pursuant to this subsection, shall not include any amount approved by the Department of Public Utility Control as an uncollectible expense. The department may deny all or part of the recovery required by this subsection if it determines that the company seeking recovery has been imprudent, inefficient or acting in violation of statutes or regulations regarding amortization agreements. (6) On or after January 1, 1993, the Department of Public Utility Control may require gas public service companies to expand the provisions of subdivisions (4) and (5) of this subsection to all hardship customers. Any such requirement shall not be effective until November 1, 1993. (7) (A) All electric and gas companies and municipal utilities furnishing electricity or gas shall collaborate in developing, subject to approval by the Department of Public Utility Control, standard provisions for the notice of delinquency and impending termination under subsection (a) of section 16-262d. Each such company and utility shall place on the front of such notice a provision that the company or utility may not effect termination of service to a residential dwelling for nonpayment of disputed bills during the pendency of any complaint. In addition, the notice shall state that the customer must pay current and undisputed bill amounts during the pendency of the complaint. (B) At the beginning of any discussion with a customer concerning a reasonable amortization agreement, any such company or utility shall inform the customer (i) of the availability of a process for resolving disputes over what constitutes a reasonable amortization agreement, (ii) that the company or utility will refer such a dispute to one of its review officers as the first step in attempting to resolve the dispute and (iii) that the company or utility may not effect termination of service to a residential dwelling for nonpayment of a delinquent account during the pendency of any complaint, investigation, hearing or appeal initiated by the customer, unless the customer fails to pay undisputed bills, or undisputed portions of bills, for service received during such period. (C) Each such company and utility shall inform and counsel all customers who are hardship cases as to the availability of all public and private energy conservation programs, including programs sponsored or subsidized by such companies and utilities, eligibility criteria, where to apply, and the circumstances under which such programs are available without cost. (8) The Department of Public Utility Control shall adopt regulations in accordance with chapter 54 to carry out the provisions of this subsection. Such regulations shall include, but not be limited to, criteria for determining hardship cases and for reasonable amortization agreements, including appeal of such agreements, for categories of customers. Such regulations may include the establishment of a reasonable rate of interest which a company may charge on the unpaid balance of a customer's delinquent bill.

Approved June 4, 1996. Effective October 1, 1996.

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