THUNDER BAY – A temporary moratorium that prevented utility companies from disconnecting Ontario electricity customers during the cold winter months was lifted on May 1.
But the end of the ban, issued by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) in February, doesn’t mean consumers whose electricity service accounts are in arrears will automatically have their power turned off this spring.
“We expect utilities to make every effort to help consumers, at risk of disconnection, stay connected,” said Brian Hewson, Vice President, Consumer Protection and Industry Performance. “There are a number of rules in place to protect consumers and we want consumers to be aware of these rules, their rights and how to get help if they need it.”
The OEB issued a letter to all Ontario electricity utilities in January reminding them of the rules they’re required to follow regarding disconnecting and reconnecting a service. The letter came prior to the OEB’s announcement of a disconnection ban.
At the time, Hewson told utilities he expects they “will ensure that the rules on disconnections and reconnections are strictly followed.”
Utilities are expected to ensure customers facing disconnection are, among other measures, given the necessary minimum advance notice and offered repayment options.
“Customers cannot be disconnected if they agree to a repayment arrangement and follow that arrangement,” Hewson said.
Utilities must also make an effort to contact the customer by phone or in person at least 48 hours before the date of disconnection and are required to reconnect within two business days of receiving a payment or entering the customer into a repayment arrangement.
Low-income customers may be eligible for special rules including the right to request equalized billing and a longer repayment plan. Utilities must also suspend a disconnection process for 21 days once it’s been advised that a customer may be eligible for emergency financial assistance.
The OEB recently announced support for lower-income electricity consumers will increase by 50 per cent and more consumers will be eligible for assistance under changes to the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), which also take effect May 1.
The OESP increase translates to an additional $180 to $300 per year for households in monthly, on-bill OESP credits, depending on their size and annual income.
“The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) designed and implemented the OESP to help protect vulnerable consumers and provide support for those who need it most,” says Rosemarie Leclair, OEB Chair and CEO. “We encourage customers who want to find out more to contact us, their utility or an OESP intake agency to see if they qualify for assistance.”
Consumers already in the program will automatically receive a credit adjustment. Others can check to see if they are eligible for assistance under the new program at OntarioElectricitysSupport.ca.
More information on the OEB’s disconnection rules is available at www.oeb.ca/consumer-protection.
TIPS FOR STAYING CONNECTED
The OEB offers the following tips for consumers who are at risk of being disconnected.
Check The Service Rules – The OEB has rules in place to protect you as a residential consumer and ensure all electricity customers across the province are treated fairly when it comes to customer service. Utilities have to follow special rules that give qualifying low-income households even more protection, such as waiving security deposits and allowing longer payment times under arrears payment plans. More information on the OEB’s disconnection rules is available at www.oeb.ca/consumer-protection.
Get Help Paying Your Bill – If you are behind on your electricity bills, your utility has to give you an opportunity to go on an arrears payment plan. The payment plan gives you extra time to pay your overdue bills. Contact your utility to learn more.
Apply For Additional Support – The OEB has support programs in place to help you in an emergency, or on an ongoing basis.
Low-income Energy Assistance program (LEAP) – This is an emergency, one time, financial assistance program for qualifying low-income customers that are behind on their electricity bills and facing disconnection. Those who qualify may receive up to $500 for each of their natural gas and electricity bills; up to $600 if the home is electrically heated. Visit www.oeb.ca/billhelp to find out more.
Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) – The OESP provides a monthly on-bill credit to reduce the electricity bill for qualifying low-income customers. Currently, credits range from $35-$75 per month. Consumers who live in homes which are electrically heated, or who rely on certain medical devices requiring a lot of power, qualify for a higher level of OESP assistance ranging from $52-$113 per month. Indigenous consumers also qualify for a higher level of assistance. More information is available at OntarioElectricitySupport.ca.
Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency – Ontarians can access a variety of coupons and programs through the Save On Energy programs specifically designed to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Your utility can provide more details about Save On Energy programs in your area.
Call the OEB – For more information, give us a call at 1-877-632-2727 (toll-free) or visit our website at www.oeb.ca.