The emergency rule adopted by the PUCT takes effect immediately and contains three main components that strengthen existing prohibitions on disconnections:
- Electric providers are prohibited until Oct. 1 from disconnecting all critical care customers (customers in which a suspension of electric service will create a life-threatening situation). These customers will be required to pay at least 25 percent of their outstanding bill starting in October with the remainder due within five months.
- Electric providers are prohibited until Oct. 1 from disconnecting all low-income customers who are at least 65 years old. These customers will be required to pay at least 25 percent of their outstanding bill starting in October with the remainder due within five months.
- Low income customers under age 65 can prevent disconnection through September with a deferred plan requiring payment of no more than 25 percent of their bill. The deferred amount would be due within five months.
Electric customers qualifying for the low-income plan have a household income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or receive Medicaid or Food Stamps from a Texas state agency. Eligible customers are required to contact their electric providers to prevent disconnection. These customers will not be charged late fees on bills dated through Sept. 30.
The new rule applies to residential customers of retail electric providers in competitive areas and to residential customers of regulated investor-owned utilities. It does not apply to municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives. However, the PUCT encourages these providers to consider adopting similar rules.
Remember that the disconnect moratorium applies to “residential critical care” or “low income, elderly” customers. “Critical care” eligibility is established via the process outlined in substantive rule 25.497. While you may receive many calls from customers claiming they are “critical care” customers, they are likely not actual “critical care” customers as defined by 25.497.
You should, however, send the Critical Care eligibility forms to the customer. Also, these customers may very likely qualify for the “ill and disabled” protection outlined in substantive rule 25.483(h). REPs are encouraged to review their customer handling procedures to ensure they are extending the ill and disabled protections to eligible customers.
Also remember that the emergency rule did not eliminate the regular rule for disconnects during extreme weather (25.483(j)).