Consumers Win Shut Off Protections from National Grid, Continue Lawsuit Against State Division of Public Utilities and Carriers
On April 26, 2016 Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Netti Vogel entered a Consent Order in a lawsuit filed last year by seriously ill and disabled utility consumers against National Grid and the State of Rhode Island’s Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. The Consent Order sets forth a comprehensive overhaul of National Grid’s customer service, debt collection, and termination policies and practices affecting more than 3,000 seriously ill and disabled electric and gas utility consumers throughout the State.
Pursuant to the terms of the Consent Order, National Grid is required to come into compliance with Rhode Island law regarding treatment of seriously ill and disabled utility consumers in the State. Disabled consumers—whom state regulations label a “handicapped”—will be provided individualized arrearage repayment plans that take into account the specific circumstances of the consumer’s household when they fall behind in their utility bills. Seriously ill consumers will be provided complete protection against termination for a period of time upon submission of a licensed physician’s certification to National Grid. In addition, the Consent Order creates an absolute prohibition against termination of gas or electric utility service to seriously ill and disabled consumers for nonpayment of arrears during National Grid’s two-month implementation of the terms of the Order, effectively extending protection to over 3,000 medically vulnerable Rhode Islanders.
Justice Vogel also ordered the Plaintiffs and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) back to Court on June 27, 2016 for a hearing on the consumers’ remaining claims against the State. These claims include that DPUC’s investigatory and hearing processes violate consumers’ Constitutional due process rights, that DPUC has failed to perform its legally required duty to protect medically vulnerable consumers, and that DPUC’s policies and practices violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
The George Wiley Center supports low-income and vulnerable utility consumers, including the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. For decades, the George Wiley Center has led efforts to make utility costs more affordable for all Rhode Islanders and increase protections from shut off for the most vulnerable. “The Division and National Grid should be following the law when it comes to protections for people with medical conditions,” says George Wiley Center lead organizer Camilo Viveiros. “The Division should advocate for utility consumers’ interests, not actively hinder utility access for Rhode Islanders who are struggling with energy insecurity.”
Check out the a documentary short film about the Lifeline Project, the collaboration between the George Wiley Center and the Center for Justice – here.