TURNING OFF THE WATER

Huntington Water Turnoffs Have Social Media Responders Furious

Updated 19 weeks ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Huntington  Water Turnoffs Have Social Media Responders Furious
File Photo (not Huntington)

The Huntington Sanitary Board has mounted an aggressive approach for collection of past due bills, according to the Herald Dispatch. Since April the board has sent West Virginia American Water over 4,000 shut off requests; however, they have only turned off 1,252, Brian Chambers, Huntington Director of Communications, told the HD. Chambers indicated that 1,055 requests went to WVAW last Wednesday.

HSB has been asking for water cutoffs for bills 30 days or more past due. The board has a little over $893,000 in bills 60 days or more overdue.

The board has hired an off-duty police officer for the office due to the number of upset customers who have , among other actions, spit at and punched the bullet proof glass behind which customer service representatives sit.

Chambers told the HD that the HSB has WV Public Service Commission Authority to shut off bills that are more than a month late.

However, according to procedures provided by the PSC for cutoffs, the HSB must issue a warning notice 30 days PRIOR to shut off. The notice must specify whether the customer disputes the bill and whether they have financial hardship. Two phone calls must follow too, unless the property is known to be vacant.  http://www.huntingtonnews.net/149755

Long waits for phone service and long lines at the Seventh Avenue office have apparently been the norm based on social media reports.

But, Crystal Viars , a student and mother of three,  told HNN  that "they shut off mine before I even received the bill and I could not get anyone to help."

An amputee complained on Facebook  about standing in line Monday for 45 minutes: "I thought I would fall before I got to the window to pay. If you call your on the phone for hour to hour and half. Something needs done with them."

Some responders have complained about the time frame that triggers a past due bill. One from the Storm Water Utility indicated that one day late places the account on the delinquent list.

Chambers acknowledged that the HSB has had billing issues in the past and allowed a "learning curve" for customers to recognize they now receive a bill from WVAW , the Sanitary Board, and the Stormwater Utility.

The HSB has stepped up both bill increases and collection practices since the death of former director, Lou Akers.

Although several residents complained of "rudeness," others suggested the customer service reps were "just doing their jobs." Another questioned the need for an officer since the reps are already behind bullet proof glass.

Susan Small, communications director for the WV Public Service Commission told HNN in June following an inquiry regarding HSB complaints:

"Our staff has recommended you provide the Public Service Commission’s Utility Complaint Phone Number (1-800-642-8544)  to the people contacting you with complaints regarding utilities so those customers can contact the PSC directly.  We can review each customer’s situation based upon the particular facts.  This would be the informal process.  Customers also have the option of a formal complaint but we recommend the informal process be used first.

http://www.huntingtonnews.net/149798

The Herald Dispatch recently editorialized favoring the water shut offs for past due customers.

And, a few postings favor dry faucets for dead beats:

"If you use the service you pay for the service. No free handouts! That's part of what's wrong with today's society. Everyone wants something give to them or their welfare. The water company doesn't run on it's own. They have employees and bills to pay too."

 The following is a clarification of rights and responsibilities of consumers:

Service Terminations

A utility must mail a written notice of termination before your service can be disconnected. This notice must include:
     1. Date when service can be terminated.
     2. Reason for the termination.
     3. Right to challenge the termination.
     4. Instructions for contacting the utility personnel by telephone and mail, including business hours.
     5. Instructions for contacting the PSC, if you are not satisfied with the challenge to the utility.

The notice must be mailed to your mailing address at least 10 days prior to termination date. If service is not terminated within 30 days, the utility must make a written termination notice again.

A utility may terminate utility service without notice where a dangerous condition exists for as long as it exists or where there has been tampering with the utility’s equipment or facilities.

Your service cannot be terminated for non-payment of charges for services not related to water, sewer and/or storm water services, if applicable.

HNN found that the Union Public Service District in Kanawha County has also has  stringent cut off dates. Their bills are due upon receipt. According to their web site, "Your water service will be subject to termination for non-pay of your sewer bill 32 days after the bill date."

The following comes from Legal Aide WV,

http://www.lawv.net/Resources/Self-Help-Library/Consumer/Public-Utilitie...

When can my electric, gas or water be cut off?

Your service can be cut off when:

  • Your bill is 10 or more days late;
  • You lie or provide false information to the utility;
  • If you break one of the utility’s rules; or
  • You don't allow the utility to come onto your property.

Will the utility contact me before turning off my service?

Generally, the utility has to follow these steps to turn off your service:

  • They must send you a letter 10 days before they turn your service off AND
  • They must make 2 attempts to call OR visit your house 24 hours before they turn your utilities off.

If the utility conditions on your property are hazardous the utility may shut off service without advance notice.

What can I do once the utility has notified me that they are going to cut off my service?

After receiving notice that your utilities will be cut off, you should contact the utility company to see if you can work out an agreement. Give the company the information they ask for. The company will look at your issue and tell you what they are willing to do.

If talking to the company doesn’t solve the problem, then you may want to file a complaint with the PSC. Keep reading this article for information about how to file a complaint with the PSC.

Can I set up a payment plan with the utility if I cannot afford to pay for my entire bill?

If you can prove that you can pay your bill, but not in its whole amount, you may ask to set up a payment plan. If you cannot agree on a payment plan with the utility company, you may want to file an informal complaint with the PSC to see if they can provide assistance.

What are the conditions if I miss a payment plan payment?

If you miss a payment plan payment, the utility can cut off your service. They will mail you a letter 5 days before they cut off your service, or they will visit you or call you on the phone.

What happens if I lose my job, have a child, or start supporting someone else and can’t make my payment plan payments?

You should contact the utility as soon as possible to ask to change your payment plan. You still have to pay your current bill and make some effort to pay on your current payment plan. If you cannot agree on a payment plan with the utility company, you may want to file an informal complaint with the PSC to see if they can provide assistance.

What if I’m a senior citizen? Can they still cut off my service?

Yes, however, if you are 65 or older, the utility has to contact a near relative or other responsible person before cutting off your utilities.

Are there any special rules that apply to people who have mental or physical problems?

Yes, the utility has to contact a near relative or other responsible person before cutting off your utilities.

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