Most of us have been there. You forget to pay the bill. You go on vacation. You’re running short on funds. And then that disconnection notice comes in the mail. Oh no! What now?
This article will explain your rights and responsibilities for your electricity bill in Texas, and how to avoid electricity disconnection.
Can’t Pay Electric Bill Because of COVID-19 Coronavirus?
Many in Texas are impacted by the Coronavirus.
Whether it has you working from home, or concerned about replacing your income, people want to know what happens if you can’t pay your electric bill because of coronavirus.
In April 2020, the Public Utility Commission of Texas set up the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program (CERP) to help those who were unemployed due to Covid-19. As of October 1, 2020, residential customers on CERP are no longer protected from disconnection.
There are a couple options for you.
First, you can contact your current electricity provider and ask for a payment arrangement. Those usually require a 50% payment of the balance, a schedule of payments, and what’s called a “switch-hold.” Once you agree to a switch-hold, you will not be able to switch to another electricity company until your payments are made.
A second option is to contact social services organizations in your area for bill payment assistance. Your electricity provider will have a list of organizations that can help.
A third option is to switch to a prepaid electricity plan, and repay your debt when you are back on your feet. Prepaid electricity will require a $50-$80 payment to get started. We recommend Payless Power Premier 12. It’s a fixed rate plan, whereas most other prepaid electricity plans have a variable rate. Just know that with prepaid, you must maintain a balance and keep a credit card on file. If you don’t maintain a positive balance, your account would be disconnected.
Electricity Shut Off Laws in Texas
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) is there to protect consumers and ensure fair treatment by retail electricity providers (REPs). Under PUCT rules, your REP must:
- Provide you a minimum of 10 days’ notice prior to sending a disconnection notice
- Allow you to make payment arrangements, if you are qualified to do so (based on the REPs requirements)
- Allow you to make a deferred payment plan if it’s a summer or winter weather moratorium (basically, a state-issued alert for super hot or super cold weather)
- Provide you with information on energy assistance provider organizations that can help you pay your bill if you get a disconnection notice
Some REPs will provide you with a friendly reminder of your missed payment a few days after your bill is due. But if you fail to contact them or may a payment within a few days of your due date, you will receive a disconnection notice, even if you have a fantastic payment history.
When Can I get a Disconnection Notice?
The PUCT allows your REP to send you a disconnection notice and disconnect your service for any of the reasons listed below:
- Failure to pay your electric bill by the date of disconnection
- Failure to contact your REP to make a deferred payment arrangement by the date of disconnection
- Failure to keep your commitment on a deferred payment arrangement or other payment agreement made with the REP
- Failure to pay a deposit required by the REP
- Failure of a guarantor to pay the amount guaranteed when the REP has a written agreement, signed by the guarantor, which allows for disconnection of the guarantor’s service
What are My Options When I Get a Disconnection Notice?
Here are some options on what to do if you get a disconnection notice. First, don’t panic. You have 10 days from the date of the letter to pay your bill.
1) Make a Payment Immediately
If you simply forgot to pay your bill, go online to make a payment, or call your electricity provider to make a payment over the phone. After you have made the payment, write down your confirmation number. For peace of mind, call customer care at your electricity provider to let them know you have made a payment.
2) Can’t Pay? Call Your Electric Provider!
If you receive a disconnection notice and can’t pay, pick up the phone and call your REP. If you can’t pay your bill, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Unless you are habitually not paying your bill every month, most retail energy providers will work with you to set up a payment arrangement.
3) Make a Payment Arrangement
If you don’t have the money to pay your electricity bill, most retailers will let you make a payment arrangement for your past due balance. This type of payment arrangement may include what’s called a “switch hold”. Basically, you won’t be able to switch to another provider until you pay off your debt in full.
Whatever you do, if you are granted a payment arrangement, make sure you adhere to the terms of the payment arrangement, and make the payments as scheduled.
If you fail to meet your obligations under a payment arrangement, you may not be given a second chance! Failure to meet your payment arrangement may then result in a disconnection. Call your electricity provider if you can’t meet the payment agreement.
4) Consider Switching to Prepaid Electricity
If you have trouble budgeting for your electricity usage, you may want to consider prepaid electricity. Pay-As-You-Go electricity plans, also known as prepaid electricity, are convenient if you are budgeting. And yes, just like with a prepaid cell phone plan, if you run out of minutes (or, in this case, kilowatt hours) your service will be disconnected.
Why is Prepaid Electricity a Good Option if you Get Disconnected?
So why is prepaid electricity a good option? Prepaid electricity will help you budget for your electricity. There’s no credit check and no deposit.
You’ll get constant updates and information on your electricity usage via text and email. You’ll get alerts on how much power you use each day, and how much power you have remaining before you run out of funds.
And that way, you can make smart decisions on your electricity usage to conserve electricity and stretch your budget further. Learn more about “Prepaid Electricity – Is It Right for Me?”
Shop Prepaid Electricity for Better Budgeting Tools
ElectricityPlans.com makes it easy to shop for Pay-As-You-Go electricity plans, with a carefully selected list of offerings from the best prepaid electricity providers. Our recommendation for the best prepaid electricity plan is Payless Power. Their fixed price prepaid electricity plan gives you the ease of no deposit electricity with the benefits of a secure fixed rate.
TX Electricity Disconnection FAQs
Yes, you can switch electric companies in Texas if you owe money. However, you may have to pay a deposit with your new electricity company. And, if you have entered a payment arrangement with your electricity provider, you may have a switch hold on your account. A switch hold will prevent you from switching electric companies until you have met your payment agreement. If you get disconnected, it’s best to work with your current provider to make payment arrangements.
Your local utility company will not process a disconnection on the weekend. However, they will process any pending disconnection first thing Monday morning. So your best bet is to contact your retail electric company and make the minimum payment over the weekend. That way you will avoid a disconnect on Monday morning.
If your lights are out due to disconnection, you can pay your bill over the weekend and get reconnected. With most retail electric providers, the reconnection is automatic, within minutes of you making a payment. With other REPs, you may need to call and provide a payment confirmation number. This is especially true if you make a cash payment at a third party location.
Want to learn more? The Public Utility Commission of Texas also has a great fact sheet about disconnection.