As a participant of a competitive electricity market (particularly if you live in a deregulated energy market), it is important to know the rights and responsibilities you have as a consumer to ensure fair dealings between you and your utilities. Public Utility Commissions in each state publish an Energy Consumer Bill of Rights to protect consumers. Some of these rights include personal privacy, fair credit and security deposit policies, reliable and safe utility service, the ability to question and dispute the accuracy of your bill with your utility company, and the option to file a complaint with the PUC. In exchange for these rights, you must fulfill your responsibilities to maintain your utility service such as timely bill payment, giving the utility access to your meter, and providing advance notice before moving or discontinuing service.
The Rights of Electricity Consumers
Payless Power digs a little deeper into the electricity consumer rights to equip that all residents should be aware of. Read below to learn how to protect yourself as a consumer as you shop for a new electricity provider.
Residential Customer Guarantees
You have the right to a written guarantee agreement with the electric provider. In the same vein, if you do not pay for your service on time and thus fail to uphold your end of the agreement, your electric provider is required to notify you before disconnecting your service. It is important to know that you are guaranteed a period of days from the notification to pay the full amount owed on your bill before they shut your electricity off.
As an electric consumer, you have the right to non-discriminatory service from utility companies. This means that you will not be denied service based on your location, income level, or if you qualify for low-income energy assistance.
Protection from Slamming and Cramming
Texas protects its customers by strictly prohibiting slamming and cramming from electricity providers. Slamming is the unauthorized switch of your electric service and cramming is an unauthorized charge for optional services on your electricity bill.
Electricity consumer rights include access to information about your rates, terms and conditions of service, and the right to be charged with accurate bills for authorized services. In the case that you have a dispute with your utility company regarding billing or service, you should first take it up with the provider. However, if the issue cannot be resolved with your power provider, you have the right as an energy customer to file a complaint with your state’s Public Utility Commission, knowing that your provider is required to immediately address the complaint.
Energy consumers have shut-off protection in many states where they can defer payments during extreme weather, like winter moratorium in the colder months, and health emergencies, such as a critical medical condition where continued electricity service is necessary to support a person’s life. However if you fail to follow through on payment arrangements such as paying your bill or deposit on time, or do not allow your utility company access to its equipment, then utilities do have the right to shut off your service. To do so, they must send you a notice and offer you a period of time to pay the bill before shutting off your service. Additionally, they must attempt to contact you in person or by phone multiple times a few days before your shut-off date. This gives energy customers ample time to hold up their end of the responsibilities and pay their bill.
If you are leasing an apartment, your state might require sub-metering of utilities services so that you are only financially responsible for the energy that you actually use. Overall, it is state law to bill each residential unit based on meter readings. This protects residents against landlords who attempt to bill their tenants for proportional utility usage.
Additional Customer Protections
In addition to what has been listed above, all energy consumers have the right to privacy of personal information and a contract with a Terms of Service agreement, customer rights section, and Electricity Facts Label that outlines pricing. Additionally, electricity consumers have the right to receive notice within at least 1 month of the end of their contract’s term so that they can take action before it expires.