Public Utilities Law in Illinois

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Author: Attorney Desk Reference Manual
Last updated: February 2006

State Statutes and Regulations
Overview
Applicants for Service
Deposits
          Deposit Amount
          Deposit Refund
          Preferred Payment Date
Deferred Payment Agreements
Utility Shutoff
          Shutoff Notice
Cold Weather Rules
          Disconnection
          Reconnection
Illness Rules
Disputed Bills
ICC Complaint
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
          Overview
          Eligibility for Emergency Services
Eligibility Requirements for LIHEAP
          Income Guidelines
          Documents Needed for Application
          Length of Application Process
          Appeal Process

 

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State Statutes and Regulations

Eligibility for and discontinuance of electrical, gas, water and sanitary sewer utility service are regulated under 83 Ill.Admin. Code Part 280 and 220 ILCS 5/8-101 et seq.

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Overview

Utility services owned by municipal corporations are not covered. They may establish their own (primarily water and sewer utility) service rules. Rural electrical cooperatives are not covered.

Each utility must provide all applicants for service a customer information booklet which explains the utility’s credit and collection practices.

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Applicants for Service

A utility may deny service to applicants if they have failed to pay past due utility service for the same class of service at the same or a different address, unless (at the option of the utility) the applicant:

  • pays any past due bill, and/or
  • provides a deposit, and/or
  • enters into a deferred payment agreement.

BUT, if the utility accepted the application by telephone from a third party who was not the customer of the services, and did not obtain approval from the customer, the utility cannot collect from the customer if the customer disputes requesting the service. Users (persons who received the utility service) are still responsible for payment.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.50.

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Deposits

 A utility may require a deposit if, during the first 24 months of service, a customer:

  • makes four late monthly payments in any twelve month period;
  • makes late payments two consecutive times or three times for service billed every two months; or
  • makes late payments two times if billed quarterly or semi-annually.

The utility may require a deposit at any time if the customer’s wires, pipes or meters have been tampered with and the customer obtained the benefit of the tampering.  The utility must make the request for the deposit within 45 days of the discovery of tampering or the event that gave rise to the deposit request.

83 Ill. Admin. Code Sec. 280.60.

Deposit Amount 

The amount of the deposit requested for gas or electrical services cannot exceed 1/6 of the estimated annual charges for the service.

For water and sewer service, the amount cannot exceed 1/3 estimated annual charges.

A utility may require that 1/3 of the deposit be paid within twelve days of the demand. For gas and electric service, the balance of the deposit must be paid within two billing periods; for water and sewer service, the balance must be paid in 30 days. Deposits may be included in a negotiated deferred payment plan.

83 Ill. Admin. Code Sec. 280.70.

Deposit Refund

Deposits must be refunded with interest (by separate check, not by credit on a future bill) after 12 months if service has not been interrupted or the customer has not paid late four times (monthly billing), two consecutive times or three times (bimonthly billing), or two times (quarterly billing) in the 12 month period.

If service is discontinued, any deposit plus interest in excess of any unpaid bill must be refunded within 30 days.

82 Ill. Admin. Code 280.70.

Preferred Payment Date

Recipients of TANF, AABD, SSI or VA benefits who receive their monthly benefits within 10 days after the utility payment is due may ask the utility to enter into a "levelized" or "budget billing arrangement" or make the utility payment due on a different date, not more than 10 days after the normal due date.

83 Ill. Admin. Code Sec. 280.90.

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Deferred Payment Agreements

Applicants and customers who have past due utility bills "have the opportunity" to enter into a deferred payment agreement to pay off the debt to avoid disconnection unless the customer has defaulted on a deferred payment plan in the last 12 months.

BUT, the utility may consider the following factors in determining whether to grant a deferred payment plan or in fashioning the terms of the plan:

  • the size of the past due account
  • the customer’s ability to pay
  • the customer’s payment history
  • the reason for the outstanding debt
  • any other relevant factors relating to the customer’s service

Under a deferred payment agreement, the applicant/customer must pay a maximum of ¼ of the amount past due at the time of the agreement. Gas and electric utilities must allow a minimum of four months to pay the balance; water and sewer utilities must allow a minimum of two months. The maximum number of months to pay the balance is 12 months. Customers must also pay future bills on time.

Gas or electric customers whose financial circumstances change during the period of the agreement have the right to renegotiate their payment plans upon request within 14 days after a default in the agreement.

If a customer defaults on the payment plan, but pays the full amount due on the plan before any disconnection, the payment plan must be reinstated, on a one time only basis.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.110.

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Utility Shutoff

A utility may disconnect service when a customer fails to:

  • make a required deposit
  • pay a past due bill
  • make payments due under a deferred payment agreement
  • provide access to the meter after the utility has made a written request
  • otherwise comply with Illinois Commerce Commission rules.  

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.130.

Shutoff Notice

The utility must give written notice to the customer of a shutoff. The utility cannot act on a notice after 40 days without issuing a new notice. At the time of shutoff the utility must attempt to contact the customer to inform him of the shutoff.

Shutoff cannot occur after 2:00 p.m. unless the utility agrees to reconnect that same day for a standard charge. Shutoff cannot occur on weekends or holidays unless reconnection is also available on those days.

The ICC rules include the required form utility shutoff notice.  83 Ill. Admin. Code 280 Appendix A

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Cold Weather Rules

Disconnection

220 ILCS 5/8-201: It is the public policy of this State that no person should be denied essential utility service during the winter months due to financial inability to pay. It is also the public policy of this State that public utilities and residential heating customers deal with each other in good faith and fair manner.

Gas or electric service providing the primary source of heat may not be shutoff on any day that the National Weather Service forecasts that the temperature will be 32 degrees or below, or on any day preceding a weekend or holiday, where the weather Service forecasts 32 degrees or below during the holiday or weekend.

83 IIl. Admin. Code 280.130.

From December 1 through March 31, gas or electric service providing the primary source of heat may not be disconnected at any residence for non-payment of a bill or deposit unless:

  • the utility has offered the customer a deferred payment agreement with a maximum of 10% of the amount due and owing down  and extending payments for the past due amount and any required deposit over at least four months not to extend beyond the following November (this requirement applies even if the customer has defaulted on a payment agreement in the last twelve months); and
  • the utility has offered the customer a levelized budget payment plan; and
  • the utility has offered the customer the names, telephone numbers and addresses of agencies which may provide assistance to customers in paying their bills, and
  • the shutoff notice gives the customer at least six working days to pay the amount past due or contact agencies for help.

A utility may not require a down payment for a deposit from a residential customer greater than 20% of the total deposit requested from December 1 through March 31. 

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.135.

Reconnection

Any former customer who used gas or electric as the primary source of heat, but whose service was disconnected due to nonpayment of a bill or deposit from December 1 of the prior winter's heating season through April 1 of the current heating season is eligible for reconnection and a deferred payment arrangement, subject to the following limitations:

  • A former customer is eligible for reconnection and enter a deferred payment arrangement only between November 1 and April 1 of the current heating season, if the former customer has not applied for energy assistance and only between October 1 and April 1 of the current heating season, if the former customer has applied for energy assistance;
  • A utility shall not be required to offer reconnection and a deferred payment arrangement to a former customer in two consecutive years;
  • the customer must have paid at least 33-1/3% of the amount billed for services after December 1 of the prior year, and
  • the former customer is not eligible for reconnection if the utility can show that the former customer enjoyed the benefit of tampering with the wiring, pipes or meters or the customer received the benefit of such tampering.

The customer must pay 1/3 of the amount past due and 1/3 of any deposit required by the utility to obtain reconnection.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.138.

A customer may demonstrate to the utility (or by filing a complaint to the ICC) that s/he does not have the financial ability to pay 1/3 of the amount past due and the deposit. The customer may be reinstated upon a payment of a "reasonable amount." 220 ILCS 5/8-207. The ICC has interpreted by rule a "reasonable amount" to be 20% of the amount past due and 20% of the deposit. 83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.138. This rule may be subject to challenge as unrelated to the ability of the customer to pay.

Prior to October 1 of the year, utilities that provide the primary heating service to a residence must notify customers whose service has been disconnected due to nonpayment of a bill from the previous December until September 15, how they can have service restored.

Note: The Illinois Commerce Commission adopted a resolution, urging local utilities to impose a moratorium on disconnections during the winter for certain eligible persons, and proposed more favorable winter reconnection rules for certain eligible persons. Clients should be referred to their local utility to determine if the utility has implemented the ICC resolution.

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Illness Rules

Utility shutoff is prohibited for up to 60 days where shutoff would aggravate an existing serious illness of a "permanent" resident of the premises.

The illness must be certified to the utility by a registered physician or a local board of health. The certification must be in writing, state the name of the ill persons, that s/he is a resident of the premises, the name/address/telephone number of the certifying entity, the nature of the illness, and the period of time during which termination will aggravate the illness.

Initial certification may be by telephone if written certification is followed within five days.

Certification lasts a maximum of 30 days, and must be renewed for any additional time period.

The customer must enter into an agreement to pay the past due bill within the first 30 days and pay for service on the account during the illness certification period.

If service is disconnected but illness certification is made during 14 days within the disconnection, service must be restored. If any resident of the premises is dependant on electricity for dialysis, respirator or other electrically operated life-support equipment, the utility should be informed so that it can tag the meter to prevent any shutoff.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.130.

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Disputed Bills

Customers may dispute bills. Utilities must have personnel in each office transacting business with the public available to hear applicant/user/customer disputes. They must inform complainants that they may speak with a supervisor if dissatisfied. Supervisors must tell complainants they may seek review of the utility’s decision on a bill by the Consumer Assistance Section of the Illinois Commerce Commission, and give them the appropriate phone numbers and addresses.

If a customer disputes a particular bill, the utility may not shutoff service provided that the customer:

  • pays the undisputed amount of the bill or an amount equal to last year’s bill at the location for the same period normalized for weather, whichever is greater,
  • pays all future undisputed bills, and
  • enters into good faith discussions with the utility to dispute the bill.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.160.

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ICC Complaint

A customer, applicant, or user may file a complaint with the ICC. The first step is to file an informal complaint with the Commission’s Consumer Assistance Section. The informal complaint should:

  • be in writing, but may be made by telephone;
  • state the name of the utility and the name, address, telephone number of the complainant;
  • state the nature of the complaint;
  • state the specific relief requested.

The Consumer Assistance Section must:

  • advise the utility about the complaint, after which the utility has 14 days to respond;
  • review and investigate the complaint;
  • advise the parties of the results of the investigation within a reasonable time not to exceed 14 days following receipt of the utility’s response.

Complainants dissatisfied with the decision of the Consumer Assistance Section may file a formal complaint with the ICC.

Utility service may not be shutoff while an informal or formal complaint is pending, provided the customer:

  • pays the undisputed amount of the bill or an amount equal to last year’s bill at the location for the same period normalized for weather, whichever is greater, and
  • pays all future undisputed bills, and
  • enters into good faith discussions with the utility to dispute the bill.

83 Ill. Admin. Code 280.170.

To file an informal complaint visit the ICC web site, or call one of the following numbers:

 (800) 524-0795
 (217) 782-2024 (Springfield)
 (312) 814-2888 or 814-2887 (Chicago)

Addresses:

State of Illinois Building
160 North LaSalle, Suite C800
Chicago, IL 60601-3104

Illinois Commerce Commission
527 East Capitol
Post Office Box 19280
Springfield, IL 62794-9280

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LIHEAP Program

Overview

The Illinois Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs (LIHEAP) has provided support to thousands of Illinois residents. An important goal of LIHEAP is to "ensure availability and affordability of heating and electricity services to low income households." One-time grants are awarded to households that are at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. See 27 Ill. Reg. 2139, amending 47 Ill. Admin. Code 100.103 (eff. 1/24/2003). Created by amendments to the 1989 Energy Assistance Act, the LIHEAP program offers three different grants to income eligible households:

  • Cash Assistance (CA): Cash Assistance will be provided to income eligible households whose energy bills are included in the rent and whose rental costs are greater than 30% of the total household income. Also, payments will be made directly to the household in cases where the energy provider is not participating in the program.
  •  Direct Vendor Payment (DVP): Households that pay for their own energy driven utilities – gas, electricity, liquid propane, oil – will be eligible to receive energy assistance benefits in the form of a one-time payment to the vendor representing a percentage of the average primary and secondary bills for the months between November and April.
  •  Emergency Services (ES): Emergency Services grants will be offered starting on October and will continue to be available through June 30 or until funds are exhausted. The amount of the Emergency Service grant generally will be the minimum requirement to reconnect the household. An applicant may only receive an ES grant once during a program year.

Eligibility for Emergency Services

The Emergency Services (ES) component is available to income eligible applicants who meet the following criteria:

  • Households that HAVE BEEN DISCONNECTED FROM THEIR PRIMARY AND/OR SECONDARY ENERGY SOURCE are eligible; and,
  • The household must have made a "good faith effort" at maintaining service(s) or provide a portion of the amount needed for reconnection. A "good faith effort" is defined as the applicant making payment to the household's energy vendors of no less than ten percent (10%) of the applicant’s income during the previous 90 days or 20% of the total amount owed, whichever method is more beneficial to the applicant. A good faith effort requires a payment of at least $75. If the applicant has not made this/these payment(s) then s/he will be required to pay an amount specified in the LIHEAP operations manual of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). The good faith rule may be waived if the household's source of income has been permanently terminated for at least 30 days and a new source of income has not commenced; or
  • An Emergency Services payment may be made on behalf of an applicant with a disconnect notice from an energy vendor and whose household contains a member experiencing a medical condition that necessitates a continuous supply of home energy. The applicant must provide a Medical Certificate that has been completed by a medical practitioner.

Eligibility Requirements for LIHEAP

Income Guidelines

All households that fall within the established income guidelines are eligible, regardless of whether they pay for their utility services directly or through their rent payment. The income guidelines are based on 150% of the Federal Poverty level published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services. Click here to view the current income guidelines of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCEO). 

Documents Needed for Application
  • Proof of income for the past 30 days (wage stubs, medical eligibility card from Public Aid, award letters from Social Security, etc.).
  • Copy of most recent gas and light bill, or stub of paid bills (cannot be shut-off notice).
  • Social Security card or proof of Social Security number for everyone in the household (if the applicant does not have a social security number, then a "dummy" social security number will be issued when a legal document such as a birth or marriage certificate, driver’s license, with the date of birth is presented).
  • Rent receipt or rental agreement. The name, address and telephone number of the landlord should be written on the back.

47 Ill. Admin. Code 100.120.

Length of Application Process

The total application process for LIHEAP can take up to 45 days. The local administering agency will notify the applicant in writing within 30 days from the date of application. If determined eligible, the grant will be issued either to the applicant or to the utility company within 15 days after approval of the application.

Emergency Service assistance will be provided within 48 hours from the date the client application is complete (all client documentation has been submitted). Notification to the utility must be made within the same 48 hours after determination of eligibility. 47 Ill. Admin. Code. 100.110.

Appeal Process

If the applicant feels s/he is denied benefits unjustly, s/he must make a request for an informal conference at the local agency within 30 days from notification of denial. This can be done verbally or in written form and should be addressed to the local agency. The conference must take place within 15 days from the date of request.

If the applicant is not satisfied with the outcome of the conference, he or she must request a state review within 30 days of the informal conference. The state review should be directed to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). DCEO will review the case and make a decision. If the applicant does not accept the results of the state review, the applicant has 30 days from the date of mailing of the state review letter to request in writing a formal hearing. The formal hearing must take place within 30 days of the date of request.

The appeal process rules are codified at 47 Ill. Admin. Code 100.85. To request an appeal, write or contact the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, LIHEAP, Division of Economic Opportunity, 620 East Adams St., Springfield, IL 62701; or LIHEAP, Division of Economic Opportunity, 100 West Randolph, Chicago, IL 60601, phone 800-252-8643 or TDD 800-785-6055.

 

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