While the extended disconnection ban applies only to electricity utilities, a number of natural gas utilities and unit sub-meter providers (USMPs) have applied a similar temporary moratorium on disconnections for non-payment.
Now that the extended disconnection ban is ending, we are reminding customers that the most important thing to do if they are unable to pay their energy bills is to stay in contact with their utility or USMP. Customers can ask to set up a payment plan and find out if they qualify for bill payment support programs. We are also encouraging customers to learn more about the rules that utilities and USMPs must follow if they intend to disconnect a home or small business for non-payment.
Bill payment support programs
The COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) supports eligible residential customers who are behind on their energy bills as a result of COVID-19 through a one time on-bill credit. Funding for the program is limited. Customers can apply for CEAP though their electricity or natural gas utility or USMP. For more information about CEAP, including eligibility requirements and maximum on-bill credit amounts, visit oeb.ca/ceap.
A similar program for small business customers is expected to launch in late August.
There are also two programs for which low-income customers may qualify.
- Emergency financial assistance under the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) provides a one time grant towards electricity and natural gas bills for eligible customers facing disconnection. On July 17, 2020, the OEB announced that utilities may increase the amount of LEAP funding available to support their customers in 2020.
- The Ontario Electricity Support Program provides monthly on-bill credits to help eligible customers reduce their electricity bills.
Enhanced Customer Service Rules Continue to Protect Consumers
Electricity utilities, USMPs and rate-regulated natural gas utilities must follow customer service rules that were recently enhanced by the OEB to further protect consumers. The enhanced rules generally apply to both residential and small business customers. They give customers more time to pay before late payment charges apply, and set out timelines and processes utilities and USMPs must follow before disconnecting customers for non-payment. Disconnection is an important tool for utilities in managing bad debt, which is a cost that is ultimately recovered from all of the customers that they serve. The OEB’s enhanced customer service rules give customers earlier notice of a pending disconnection, and therefore more time to explore bill payment support programs and to make payment arrangements with their utility or USMP in order to avoid being disconnected.
- Customers have a minimum of 20 calendar days to pay their energy bills before a late payment charge can apply.
- Customers cannot be disconnected unless they first receive an "account overdue notice" and then a disconnection notice. The disconnection notice has to provide for a notice period of at least 14 calendar days before the earliest possible disconnection date.
- Once the notice period ends, the service can be disconnected at any point during the next 14 days. If the customer has applied for LEAP emergency financial assistance and is waiting to be notified of acceptance, they may have more time.
- Customers cannot be disconnected on a day when their utility or USMP is closed to the public to make payment and/or reconnection arrangements, or on the day before that day.
The OEB expects distributors and USMPs to continue to focus on promoting solutions for customers that are behind on their energy bills, and to increase awareness of bill payment support programs that may be available.
Tips for customers behind on their energy bill payments:
- Do your best to make payments, even if only partial amounts.
- If you’re unable to pay your energy bills, the most important thing to do is to stay in contact with your utility or USMP.
- If you receive a disconnection notice, contact your utility or USMP without delay. You have the option of setting up a payment plan. It’s called an Arrears Payment Agreement.
- Know the disconnection rules that utilities and USMPs have to follow.
- There are special rules for eligible low-income customers that include longer payment times under an Arrears Payment Agreement.
- Electricity customers who want to learn more about the OEB’s customer service rules, including details of the disconnection process, should go here.
- Natural gas customers who want to learn more about the OEB’s customer service rules, including details of the disconnection process, should go here.
- Read the OEB’s Consumer Charter to learn more about your rights and responsibilities as an energy consumer.
- Learn more about the measures the OEB is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Learn more about low-income bill payment support programs at oeb.ca/BillHelp