The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) maintains a written policy known as the Winter Termination Program (WTP) by which regulated electric or gas utility companies cannot discontinue service to certain households during the period of November 15 through March 15. A residential customer that receives any of the public benefits named below cannot have service discontinued as long as they make good faith payments if you have the ability to do so. Customers protected by the Winter Termination Program should contact the Board’s Division of Customer Assistance at 800-624-0241 for details of their rights and responsibilities.
Below is the text of the New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.) 14:3-3A.5 that set forth the conditions of the Winter Termination program applicable to residential gas and electric service. They were authorized by the BPU under Docket Number: AX15010032 with an effective date of February 11, 2015.
(a) An electric or gas utility shall not discontinue service during the period from November 15 through March 15 (referred to in this section as the “heating season”), unless otherwise ordered by the Board, to those residential customers who demonstrate at the time of the intended termination that they are:
1. Recipients of benefits under the Lifeline Credit Program;
2. Recipients of benefits under the Federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), or certified as eligible therefore under standards set by the New Jersey Department of Human Services;
3. Recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);
4. Recipients of Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
5. Recipients of Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD);
6. Recipients of General Assistance (GA) benefits;
7. Recipients of the Universal Service Fund (USF); or
8. Persons unable to pay their utility bills because of circumstances beyond their control. Such circumstances shall include, but shall not be limited to, unemployment, illness, medically related expenses, recent death of an immediate family member, and any other circumstances, which might cause financial hardship.
(b) Those residential electric or gas customers whose service has been discontinued for non-payment and not reconnected as of November 15, and who are otherwise eligible for protection under the Winter Termination Program, shall be required to make a down payment of up to 25 percent of the outstanding balance as a condition of receiving electric and/or gas service during the current heating season. The customer shall be notified, at the time of enrollment in a budget billing plan as required by (c) below, that the down payment shall represent a maximum required amount and is not to be regarded as a minimum required payment. The utility shall consider the customer’s ability to pay in determining the appropriate level of the required down payment, but in no instance shall such required payment exceed 25 percent of the outstanding balance. The utility shall refer to the Board for resolution, all disputes regarding the appropriate amount of down payments.
(c) All residential electric or gas customers who are eligible for and seek the protection of the Winter Termination Program shall enroll in a budget billing plan on an annual basis.
(d) All residential electric or gas customers who are eligible for and seek the protection of the Winter Termination Program shall make good-faith payments during the heating season, if they have the ability to do so. Said payments shall be equal to the amount that the customer would be required to pay under a budget billing plan, except that the utility shall accept a lesser amount from those customers who do not have the ability to pay.
(e) If an eligible customer has the ability to make a good-faith payment but refuses to do so, or if there is any other dispute related to good-faith payments, the utility shall refer said dispute to the Board for a determination. In addition, the utility shall inform each eligible customer involved in such a dispute that the matter has been forwarded to the Board for a determination and that the customer may also notify the Board of the dispute if he or she so chooses. Until the Board has rendered a determination in such an instance, the utility shall not unilaterally discontinue service during the heating season.
(f) If a customer receives energy related financial assistance, such as Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) heating benefits, the customer shall forward all of the benefits to their electric or gas utility, if either utility is their major heat supplier.
(g) During the heating season, an electric or gas utility shall not request a security deposit or an addition to an existing security deposit from a customer who is eligible for and seeks the protection of the Winter Termination Program.
(h) An electric or gas utility may terminate service to a customer who is eligible for the Winter Termination Program in accordance with (i) and (j) below, if said customer connects, disconnects or otherwise tampers with the meters, pipes, wires or conduits of the utility for the purpose of obtaining electric or gas service without payment.
(i) No discontinuance shall occur under (h) above until the customer has been afforded all reasonable due process considerations, including an opportunity to be heard. Toward this end, the electric and gas utilities shall comply with the following requirements prior to discontinuing service to any customer who has allegedly tampered with the meter or other utility facilities:
1. The utility shall notify the Board of all pertinent facts related to the alleged tampering;
2. Board staff shall have seven days after receipt of said information to complete an impartial and informal investigation of the matter. In the event that a utility comes forward with sufficient credible evidence that shows that the meters, pipes, wires, conduits or attachments through which a customer is thus being furnished with electric or gas service have been tampered with, Board staff shall immediately notify the customer and the burden shall shift to the customer to come forward with sufficient evidence to rebut the charges of the utility. Failure to do so will result in a finding that tampering did occur for the purpose of obtaining the utility service without payment and that the customer is responsible for the tampering;
3. Upon a finding by Board staff that tampering did occur, the utility shall give written notification to the customer, by certified mail, return receipt requested; and to the local public welfare agency and the local municipal health agency, by regular mail, as to the date upon which service to the customer shall be terminated. Said notification shall be made at least seven days prior to the date of the proposed service termination. The utility shall further advise the customer in the written notification that if he or she claims to be dependent on life sustaining equipment, the customer must comply with the procedures for medical emergencies at N.J.A.C. 14:3-3A.2(i) and (j) within the aforementioned seven-day period. Any customer that wishes to dispute a discontinuance based on a finding that tampering has occurred may file a petition with the Board in accordance with N.J.A.C. 1:1-1.5; and
4. Any relief requested under N.J.A.C. 14:3-3A.2(h) regarding medical emergencies shall be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
(j) A customer, otherwise eligible for the Winter Termination Program, whose electric or gas service had been discontinued prior to the start of the heating season and who has subsequently caused the unauthorized restoration of said service shall, when said unauthorized service has been registered on the meter, be required to make a down payment of up to 25 percent of the outstanding account balance as of the most current meter reading as a pre-condition for the continuation of service during the heating season.
Last updated: July 22, 2020
Copyright © 2020 by Michael R. Swayze