Cleveland Public Power fails to give its customers proper shutoff notices
by Jacie Jones & Delaney Jones
(Plain Press, January 2020) This article is the second in a series based on issues that came out of the Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition’s October 17th public hearing about utility shutoffs through Cleveland Public Power (CPP).
The first article focused on the issues that customers face when applying for assistance to avoid shutoffs. This article focuses on the lack of notice some customers receive about being shutoff.
Issues to be addressed in future articles include: lack of due process before shutoffs, inability to make affordable payment plans, electricity being turned off for people with medical issues, and an over 50% surcharge on customers’ bills called the “Energy Adjustment Charge” which has yet to be adequately explained by CPP.
How would you like to suddenly find your power tuned off without you never being informed that your power was being turned off? This is happening to Cleveland Public Power customers across Cleveland.
The Cleveland Codified Ordinances, which govern and regulate CPP, clearly lay out the requirements about shutoff notices for people who are behind on their utility payments. If the customer fails to pay, their account is termed “delinquent” and can be subject to discontinuation of service. However, the customer has certain rights before their power can actually be turned off. CPP must give the consumer notice before termination of service.
The first notice must be sent at least ten days before termination could occur. If CPP receives no response within five days, then a second notice must be sent, or personal contact must be made with an adult on the premises by phone or personal visit. There are also additional specific requirements for notification for an elderly or handicapped individual.
Despite being required by law, many customers report receiving no notice that their power is going to be shutoff. One individual shared her experience from this August, stating “I was at the hospital with my three-year old daughter when I got a call that my service was disconnected. They shut off my service on a late Friday afternoon. I also received no notice that they were disconnecting my service”.
Another individual was shut off without warning in June. She stated, “I woke up to feed my son and realized my refrigerator light was not on, so I checked the light switch, and nothing worked. I even checked my fuse box thinking that was the problem, and still nothing. I checked my door to see if they left me a disconnection notice but there was nothing. All my food is going bad and now I won’t be able to cook for my 3-year-old son”.
In addition to timely notification, the following information must be included in each shutoff notice: the name and account information of the customer, the date after which the shutoff could occur, the charge for service reconnection, a statement that the consumer has the right to appear before a board of review to present objections, the total amount owed and the time period for which that amount is owed.
Upon examination of several shutoff notices CPP customers have received, much of this information is not there. Specifically, shutoff notices both mailed to the customer and/or placed on their door did not include the date after which termination could occur, the charge for service reconnection, information about the consumer’s right to appear before a board of review, or the time frame during which the customer did not pay their full bill.
A particularly bizarre and outrageous way that people are being disconnected is related to those people who move from one location with CPP service to another location with CPP service. One would expect that the final bill owed at the old location would be sent and added to the bill at the new location. However, that is not what happens.
Instead, the final bill for the old apartment or house continues to be sent to that old address. When it is not paid, your CPP service will be disconnected at your new apartment or house. For example, one individual whose former address was demolished, continued having her old bill sent to the old house that no longer existed. At her new house, her CPP service was turned off for that lack of payment for the bill she never received.
The overall evidence is clear that some customers do not receive notification that their power will be shutoff, and those that do receive a notice are not provided the legally required information. This is not only against city laws, but also unjust, and makes a difficult situation much more challenging.