The ban that prevents utilities from turning off the service to those behind on their bills ends Tuesday. The ban only covers those who are signed up for the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Iowa Utilities Board spokesman, Rob Hillesland, says those not in LIHEAP may also be behind on their bills and the best thing to do is to work out a payment agreement. “It’s vital that customers who feel they cannot pay their energy bills contact their local utility for help in avoiding potential service disconnection,” Hillesland says.
The record cold this winter has pushed heating bills up for everyone and led to a record amount of unpaid bills. Hillesland says regulators and the utility companies are trying to help Iowans deal with the bigger bills. “The board has met with representatives of many of the utilities recently and they’re doing extra things this year to try to reach out to customers and communicate that they need to enter into payment arrangements — or find means to try to avoid service disconnections,” Hillesland says.
He says the utility companies across the state would rather work something out than pull the plug. “Disconnection is always the last resort for representatives of utilities,” he says. But, Hillesland says you have to do your part and try to work something out. “One of the large energy utilities serving Iowa reported that it had done an internal study of its customers that had been disconnected recently. And it indicated that a majority of those customers had left options on the table that could have avoided disconnections,” Hillesland explains.
The state can help if you feel you can’t come to an agreement with your utility. “If there’s unresolved issues with their utility, they can call the Iowa Utilities Board customer service staff. There’s a toll free number 1-877-565-4450,” Hillesland says. “The Iowa Utilities Board does have rules that govern when disconnections can occur.” He says they also have rules governing the payment agreements between customers and utilities.
The board report showed that there were just over 243,000 households in Iowa who had a past-due balance on their utility accounts at the end of February. Those households owed a record of just over $46 million.