(The Center Square) – Several Illinois-regulated utility companies volunteered extra protection for vulnerable residents this year.
Ameren Illinois, ComEd, Liberty Utilities, Nicor, North Shore and Peoples Gas declared they would cease disconnections to all residents this winter. Illinois implements statutory winter rules every year, but the voluntary moratorium will offer better protection, an Illinois Commerce Commission news release said.
“In a normal year, there is a winter moratorium that is in place from Dec. 1 through March 31, and there are a lot of different qualifiers and details to how the moratorium works, and so what is different this year is that there is a clear-cut commitment from utilities that we regulate,” ICC Chairwoman Carrie Zalewski said.
The voluntary moratorium will follow the same dates as the state’s statutory winter rules.
The full winter protections for all residents apply only to gas and electric, the ICC said in the release.
Two state-regulated water providers, Aqua Illinois and Illinois American Water and Utility Services of Illinois, have agreed to provide more protection to customers this winter, but Zalewski said they are only ceasing disconnections for participants who are low income, including participants in the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP).
“And by low income, I mean not just the customers who qualify for LIHEAP and PIPP, but also those who self-certify, so who call these water companies and explain that they’re experiencing an economic or health hardship,” she said.
Customers will still have to repay if they can’t make their payments over the winter, but there are programs to help soften payments. The state and consumer advocate groups have facilitated bill payment assistance programs and extended deferred payment arrangements (DPAs).
If customers qualify, these could provide reduced payments or actual reductions off the top of arrearages, Zalewski said.
“The first stop should be to call the utility because they have all the specific details of what they can offer and how, but if you’re not getting the information you need or you’re struggling with some of the information you’re receiving, please call, reach out to the Illinois Commerce Commission,” Zelewski said.
Anyone struggling to get information from their utility company is encouraged to call the Illinois Commerce Commission hotline at 800-524-0795.