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Consumer Rights

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About My Bill

What information must be on my bill?

The bill must include the company’s name, address and phone number of where to call for information or to dispute bills. In addition, the bill must include:

  • Dollar amount or percentage of the bill that is taxes or fees.
  • Basis for each charge assessed. Each charge must be listed as a separate line item.
  • Last meter reading for water and energy.
  • Due date.
  • Date bill becomes overdue.

Can I change my bill’s due date?

Upon your request, the company must change your due date to coincide with your payday.

When does a bill become past due?

Your bill is past due 15 days from the date issued.

How do I dispute a bill?

Contact the company and try to resolve the complaint with them. You must be allowed to speak to a supervisor. If you cannot get your dispute resolved with the company, contact the UTC. Once UTC staff initiates an investigation, companies are required to respond within two full working days. If you think there’s a problem with the meter reading for your water or energy, you can request that the company re-check the meter.

How can I learn more about the rates my company charges?

Many companies will post them to their website or send you a copy of their rates if you ask. If not, a copy must be available for public inspection at the company’s office. You may also review company tariffs (a document outlining rates, terms and conditions for providing service) at the UTC in Olympia or request that a copy be mailed to you. Unless the tariff is unusually large, there is no charge for this mailing.

How is my utility rate determined?

Many factors contribute to the cost of energy, garbage and recycling, water and telecommunications services, including equipment, repair and administrative costs, employee wages, taxes and compliance with local regulations. When any of these costs increase, a company may seek approval from the UTC for a rate increase.

How will I know if my company is proposing a rate increase?

Your company is required to inform all customers of proposed rate hikes before they go into effect. Customers may comment in writing about any proposed rate increase or in person at public meetings.

What can I do if I think my company raised my rates without proper notice?

If you feel your rates were increased without proper notification, speak with the company supervisor. For more information read Customer Notice Requirements.  If you are still dissatisfied, contact the UTC.

How can I get more information about a pending rate increase?

Call the UTC’s Consumer Protection Help Line for information about participating in the rate-setting process. You may also request that your name be placed on an “interested persons” mailing list so that you are notified of any hearings regarding changes to your company’s rates.

How does the UTC decide whether to approve a rate change?

UTC staff examines all rate increase proposals to see if the request is fair, just, reasonable and sufficient. This review includes an audit of the company’s expenses and verification of the quality of service provided. Comments from the public are also considered. After this review, commission staff make recommendations to the three-member commission at a public hearing at which customers are allowed to speak on the proposal. The UTC may choose to approve changes proposed by a company, grant lower or higher rates, or postpone the rate increase for further investigation.

Broken Meters

This applies to electric, gas, and water company complaints.

How do I know if my meter is broken?

You can ask the company to check your meter if you suspect a problem. They will do this once a year for no charge.

Am I responsible to pay for any usage if the meter is not working properly?

Even if you have a broken meter, the company is required by law to collect all unpaid usage charges. The company may estimate the amount of usage during the period when the meter was broken. The calculation of this estimate is specified in the company’s approved tariff. 

Back Billing

Can the company back bill me for past charges?

Companies must charge the rates that have been approved in their tariff.  Regulated utilities are allowed to recover any valid costs and expenses.

What are my rights regarding a back bill?

  • Companies are required to allow a customer to pay a back bill over the same amount of time that it took to accrue the amount in the back bill. For example, if you receive a back bill to correct 12 months of incorrect bills, you must be given payment arrangements over a 12 month period.
  • You have a right to see how the back bill was calculated. Ask your utility to show you how it calculated the back bill.
  • If you are not satisfied with the company’s response, you have the right to file a complaint with the UTC.

Deposits

When must I pay a deposit for service?

Generally,  if you have good credit you will not have to pay a deposit. If you do not have a satisfactory credit rating, you might be required to pay a deposit before service begins. Examples of conditions that might require a deposit include:

  • An overdue balance owed to a similar company
  • You were refused service or disconnected for refusal to pay a similar bill during the last 12 months or you have received two or more delinquent notices.
  • Another occupant at your address has an overdue bill owed to the company.

How much will my deposit be?

Generally, your deposit will be about two times the monthly bill. Telephone companies base this amount on your local and long-distance bills.

When is my deposit due?

Usually half of the deposit is due when service is connected, with the balance due in two monthly installments.

What if I cannot afford a deposit?

Ask your utility for other options. For example, another person with good credit may be willing to act as a co-signer for your utility account. Or you can receive limited service (such as no long-distance) during the time that your credit is being established. Energy utilities will allow you to pre-pay an estimate of your monthly bills in lieu of a deposit.

When will I get my deposit back?

Once your deposit is paid in full, your deposit will be refunded after you pay your bill promptly for 12 consecutive months. At that point, your deposit will either be applied to your next bill or returned to you. In either case, you will get your deposit amount plus interest. “Prompt payment” means you cannot have received more than two past-due notices within the last 12 months, and the company has not disconnected your service for non- payment.

Disconnections

Can my service be disconnected without my permission?

Yes, if you do not pay bills on time, if you fail to make a required deposit payment, or if you began service under false or illegal pretenses such as using another person’s name.

When can service be disconnected?

Utility companies may not disconnect your service on weekends, legal holidays, or on any other day when the company cannot re-establish service on the same or following day. An exception can be made if the disconnection is necessary to prevent danger to life or property.

Can a company disconnect my service while I am disputing the bill?

As long as you pay undisputed portions of your bill, a company may not disconnect your service if the UTC is investigating your claim.

Must a company notify me before it disconnects my service?

Yes. Before disconnection, you should receive at least one written notice accurately stating the amounts owed and detailing the process that needs to be followed to avoid disconnection. A company seeking disconnection must also attempt additional contacts either by telephone or by another written notice. Written notices can either be mailed or hand- delivered.

Are there any exceptions to the notification requirement?

Yes. If you tamper with the gas or electricity meter, the company may disconnect service without notice.

May a company charge to reconnect my service?

Yes. Utility companies can charge reconnection fees. The amount varies from company to company.

Can the utility disconnect my service if I have a medical emergency?

The utility must postpone disconnection of service for a grace period of five business days to allow you time to submit a medical emergency certificate from the your doctor, pay a minimum of 10 percent (electric and gas) and 25 percent (telephone and water) of the delinquent balance, and make arrangements on the balance due. You should contact your utility to let the company know of a medical condition of a resident in the household. If you need help contact the UTC.

Reconnection - Starting Service

May a company refuse to provide me service for having an unpaid utility bill?

Phone companies may refuse service but must offer you at least one chance to pay the amount owed over time. Failure to pay for long-distance calls and other charges unrelated to basic local phone service is not grounds for disconnection. Energy and water companies, however, may not refuse service if you are disconnected. Instead, these companies can require a deposit.

If I don’t owe a company anything, can I still be denied service?

A company can deny service if you live outside their service territory. This usually applies to people living in remote rural locations. If you need to have new lines installed, a telephone company requires that you have secured right-of-way access and that installation of lines doesn’t pose any hazard to the installer

Service Complaints

What are some examples of service related complaints? 

Some examples include the delay of new service, missed appointments, intermittent service, out of service, unreliable service and refusal of service.

What should I do if I have a service issue with my utility?

You should first contact your company and ask them to investigate your complaint. If you are not satisfied with their response, escalate your complaint by requesting to speak with a company supervisor. If you are still not satisfied, you may file a complaint with the commission.