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.
Facing Disconnection? Know Your Rights
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) is there to protect consumers and ensure fair treatment by retail electricity providers (REPs). Under PUCT rules, REPs 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
Call Your Electric Provider!
If you receive a disconnection notice and can’t pay, the first thing you need to do is pick up the phone. Make the phone call. 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.
REPs are people too. (Not really… but they employ people.) They aren’t bad. They don’t want to shut off your power. But they are not in business to provide free electricity.
The old saying, you get what you pay for? That applies here in reverse: you have to pay for what you get. That’s not personal, it’s just business. That said, they are very likely to work with you to keep your lights on.
Make a Payment Arrangement (and Keep It!)
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.
Consider Pay-As-You-Go Power
If you have trouble budgeting for your electricity usage, you may want to consider either budget billing or Pay-As-You-Go electricity.
Under budget billing, your REP will calculate a monthly payment for you based on your contract rate and your historical usage. This allows you to budget and plan, and avoids the impact of a high bill during the summer months. The down side of budget billing? If your usage varies dramatically from the prior year, you may end up underpaying. If that’s the case, you’ll have a “true-up” at the end of the year, meaning a big lump sum payment. Learn more about “How Average Billing Works”.
Pay-As-You-Go electricity plans, also known as prepaid electricity, let you pay as you go. 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. So what makes Pay-As-You-Go a good thing? 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. 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?”
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.
Want to learn more? The Public Utility Commission of Texas also has a great fact sheet about disconnection.