What consumer protections are there for PUCO regulated utilities?

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The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) oversees companies and makes sure Ohioans have access to safe and reliable utilities. Common utility services include electric, natural gas, telephone, water and waste. As a utility user, you have certain rights and protections against having your service shut-off by utility providers that are regulated by PUCO.

However, not all utility companies are regulated by PUCO. For example, some municipal utility providers like Cleveland Public Power and Cleveland Water Department are not PUCO regulated utilities. To find a list of companies that are regulated by PUCO go to www.puco.ohio.gov.

If you are unable to pay your utility bill, PUCO regulated companies must send you a shut-off notice at least 14 days before the disconnection. Utility companies are allowed to shut off services year-round. However, if an electric or natural gas utility company plans to shut off service during the winter months, between November 1 and April 15, the company must give you an extra 10 day shut-off notice in addition to the 14-day notice. Utility companies must also offer you a payment plan option to help you keep your services connected.

If a member of your household has a medical condition where shutting off the utility service would be dangerous to their health, you may qualify for a medical certification. The medical certification will delay a shut-off (or in some cases allow you to get your service turned back on) for an additional 30 days. For more information on medical certifications, you can call your utility company or visit the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel website, at www.occ.ohio.gov (search “medical certification”).

There are also programs like the Winter Reconnect Order, the Summer Program, and the Home Energy Assistance Program, which help people who are having trouble paying their utility bills and may be at risk of utility shut-off. To find out more about these programs, call (800) 282-0880 or see the Legal Aid Brochure: “Utility Problems?” at https://lasclev.org/utility-problems/.

If you are having problems with a utility provider, you may submit an informal complaint to PUCO. There are four ways to contact PUCO with a complaint:

  1. Fill out the online complaint form located at www.puco.ohio.gov (under the “Contact Us” tab).
  2. Call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-7826.
  3. Fax your complaint to (614) 752-8351.
  4. Mail your complaint to:
    Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
    Attn: IAD
    180 Broad Street
    Columbus, Ohio 43215-3793

If PUCO determines that they are not able to solve your problem or you are unhappy with the outcome, you may file a formal complaint with PUCO by calling (800) 686-7826. If you decide to file a formal complaint, PUCO will open an administrative law case, which will be similar to a court case.

Legal Aid assists consumers in some utility cases. To apply for help from Legal Aid with a utility related problem, call (888)-817-3777, or visit a neighborhood Brief Advice Clinic (see the schedule at www.lasclev.org).

This article was written by Erin Przybylinski and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue! 

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