New Hampshire Legal Assistance

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Know Your Rights to Stay Warm

Posted Mar 07, 2018

There are a number of programs and protections available if you are having trouble affording your heat or electric bill this winter.

 

You can apply at your local Community Action Program (CAP) for the fuel assistance program.  A link to information about how to apply and the income guidelines are found at https://www.nh.gov/osi/energy/programs/fuel-assistance/

 

The program can pay for wood, fuel oil, electric heat or rent if heat is included. Fuel assistance benefits range $75 to $1,125 depending on household income and energy costs.  The average benefit is $658.

 

Most electric companies are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The rules also apply to some gas and steam service.  If you have a question about the rules, call the PUC Consumer Representative at 271-2331.

 

The PUC has assistance programs run by the CAPs to help people afford electricity and heating fuel. The discounts, depending on gross income and household size, range from 8% to 76% of the bill.  A description of the program is found at: http://www.puc.state.nh.us/Consumer/electricassistanceprogram.htm

 

Your town or city has a legal responsibility to make sure that you have adequate heat or have electricity.  The New Hampshire Law is found at RSA 165 and states that whenever a person is poor and unable to support themselves, the municipality shall relieve and maintain.  Every municipality has written guidelines and a welfare officer.  In an emergency, state law requires cities and towns to make decisions without delay. Contact the town or city welfare office to apply.  It is important that you file a written application, be sure to receive a written copy of the decision.

 

The municipality can issue a fuel oil voucher or contact your electric company to make a payment. PUC rules prevent the electric company from disconnecting service as long as the municipality agrees to pay the current bill and you make a reasonable payment plan on the back bill. 

 

Gas and winter electric disconnect rules and medical emergency protections exists. The winter rules are found at PUC 1204 and the medical emergency rules are found at PUC 1205.  The rules are found at: http://www.puc.state.nh.us/Regulatory/Rules/PUC1200.PDF

 

Between November 15th and March 31st, special winter repayment arrangements can give customers extra time to pay off the overdue bills. During this winter period, the utility company must notify customers either in person or by telephone before disconnecting service.  If the utility is unable to notify the customer, the utility must seek approval from the PUC before disconnecting services. 

 

The utility company must also seek PUC approval to disconnect a customer known to be age 65 or older during the winter.  The PUC denies permission to disconnect service if the customer is facing a financial hardship and has made a good faith effort to pay the back bill.  


If you receive a disconnection notice and disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal that decision with the utility company to discuss the notice.  In addition, if you disagree with the outcome of the conference with the utility company, you have the right to appeal to the Public Utility Commission Staff.

 

To qualify for these benefits, you must agree to and begin a reasonable plan to pay the back bill and keep paying your current bill.  


The utility company must also seek PUC approval before disconnecting a customer with a medical emergency certified by a medical professional. If you or a member of your household has a medical emergency- and you are in compliance with a payment agreement - the utility company cannot disconnect service. 


A special note for renters: Landlords cannot willfully cause the interruption of any utility service such as heat, electricity, and water except to make emergency repairs.  If this happens, you have the right to go to your local Circuit Court District Division and file what is called an RSA 540-A petition. The Court should have an immediate hearing on this petition, and issue an order.  

It is important to have the address of the landlord or agent as the Court will issue an order requiring that utility service be restored.  A final hearing will be scheduled and you may be entitled to monetary damages if the Court agrees that the landlord willfully interrupted utility service. 

For information about filing an RSA 540-A petition, visit: http://nhlegalaid.org/self-help-guides/housing/tenants-rights/filing-petition-under-rsa-540