Utility companies and the indigent / by kevin murray

In the book "Evicted" it is estimated that one in five poor renting families receive a disconnect notice from their utility company in a typical year.  Such a disconnect notice for gas, water, or electricity can have catastrophic effects upon the residents of a home, depending upon their health, the weather conditions,  ages, and other assorted relevant factors in which the loss of gas, water, or electricity often places an undue burden and substantial physical risks upon those that are living within that home.


In most cases, public utilities are regulated by either Federal, State, city, or county governmental offices in which the mission of those utilities should include the mandate that the deliberate shutting off of such service to the users, should be only done under the most pressing of circumstances, for the very health and quality of life of those without gas, water, or electricity is quite obviously adversely impacted when such has been enacted.


In all situations before such a utility is shut off, the consumer should be provided as per law and within a timely manner, with a written list of all known resources available (governmental, organizational or charitable) to that consumer so as to provide assistance to them, when they are in a financial bind that precludes them from the making of an on-time payment.  Additionally, in conjunction with these assistance programs, as a matter of course, utility companies should be required to keep utility services on, for anybody that makes even a small subset of the payment due, so that a given consumer has time to make amends for delinquent or late payments.


Further, as public utilities, the additional burden of late fees, penalties, disconnect fees, deposits, service connect fees, and so on and so forth, should always be structured in a manner that all of these penalties and fees should and must be minimized to the consumer, as opposed to these being piled on, therefore creating even more of a burden upon those that are unable to make their payments on time or for the amount so due.  That is to say, when a consumer has already demonstrated that they have a great difficulty in making their payment, the adding-on of additional fees and penalties is not going to be beneficial for that situation, and thereby should always be the exception and not the rule.


Basically, utilities because of their monopoly positions have an obligation that their first order of business is to see that they provide fair and reliable service to all consumers.  Their second order of business should be to see that all of their bills, fees, and penalties are structured in a manner that is fair and equable to those consumers.  Their third order of business is to work with those consumers that are having problems with the payment of those bills, in conjunction with other governmental as well as charitable organizations to address these concerns.


The fact of the matter is that regulated utility companies should be structured in such a manner, that the deliberate shutting off of service to anyone at anytime should ultimately be approved only by a truly independent citizen review board, so that, far less poor people would suffer far less outages, that currently is the case.