The Interim Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman is concerned that utility companies in Connecticut have been trying to collect past due bills from customers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coleman filed a petition Friday afternoon with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority calling for an investigation into two of the largest public utility companies: Eversource Energy and Avangrid, Inc.
Coleman said her office has obtained information “that demonstrates that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the utility companies sued consumers for nonpayment and sought and received wage garnishment in court.”
Those actions run counter to the intent of PURA’s multiple orders seeking to assist vulnerable and low-income consumers during the unprecedented financial challenges that COVID-19 inflicted upon the people of Connecticut.
“I am deeply disturbed,” Coleman said. “OCC, PURA, the Attorney General, and many other stakeholders have worked diligently over the course of the pandemic to ensure that consumers facing financial hardship receive the assistance they need to keep the lights on and the heat running. To learn that our utilities, and to the greatest extent United Illuminating, were pursuing judgments against consumers in court during the Covid-19 State of Emergency rather than directing them to the many assistance and relief programs available during this time is shocking. I welcome a full investigation into this matter.”
A spokeswoman from Eversource said the company received the complaint and is reviewing it.
“ We have and continue to empathize with customers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and have fully complied with the PURA’s directives in this area,” Eversource Spokeswoman Tricia Taskey Modifica said. “In addition to imposing a moratorium on service disconnections, out of an abundance of caution, we voluntarily suspended all new legal collections beginning March 13, 2020, which have not restarted. We look forward to fully participating in this review and providing additional information to PURA related to this matter.”
Avangrid, Inc., which represents United Illuminating Company, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas, said they were among the first to suspend turn-offs.
“As the pandemic continued, we helped customers take advantage of the numerous products, government assistance and services designed to help them pay for their energy use in a flexible and customer-friendly manner,” Gage Frank, a spokesman for Avangrid, said. “This includes options such as interest-free pandemic payment plans, suspension of late payment charges, and referrals to assistance programs. Currently, AVANGRID is reviewing the petition submitted by the Consumer Counsel and will await further action from PURA.”