Frequently Asked Questions About Utility Bills and Bankruptcy
Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
1. I owe payments for utility services, and the utility company is going to shut off my service. Should I file for bankruptcy?
If you are facing a utility shut-off, including your electricity, gas, water, or telephone due to unpaid bills, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy may help keep your service connected. Under federal law, if you file for bankruptcy, the utility company cannot change, refuse, or disconnect your service. Also, utility companies cannot shut off or refuse to provide you service just because you filed for bankruptcy or were late on your payments at the time you filed bankruptcy.
If you decide to file bankruptcy to keep your utility services connected, you may have to file an emergency petition. This means you can file the petition to start the process and stop the shut-off, and file the rest of the documents within 14 days. If you do this, be sure you are ready to file the rest of the forms by the 14-day deadline. If you don’t, the bankruptcy court may dismiss your case.
- But, you may want to think about whether other, simpler options may be best for you. For example, the Washington, D.C. Utility Discount Program helps certain qualified low-income residents to reduce their utility costs, and Emergency Energy Assistance is available to low-income District residents who have received a disconnection notice for electric or gas service, or are currently disconnected. Assistance is also available to residents without home heating oil.
2. I owe payments for cable television service. Is that a “utility” for bankruptcy purposes?
A cable television company is not a utility, and so it may shut off your cable TV service if you do not pay your bill on time. But you can list the amount of your cable TV bill in your bankruptcy schedules. The bankruptcy court may discharge that debt, and after your bankruptcy case is done, the company may wish to have you as a customer again.
3. I owe payments on utility services, but I filed for bankruptcy. Can the utility company still shut off my service?
Maybe! Filing bankruptcy alone is not enough - there are steps YOU must take to keep your utilities connected.
First, you must make sure that your unpaid utility bills are listed as debts in your bankruptcy schedules. This way, the court will notify the utility company that you have filed bankruptcy, and this will help ensure that your services are not shut off because of your pre-bankruptcy utility debts. Also, once you have filed for bankruptcy protection, the utility company cannot try to collect the past-due utility bills by making phone calls, sending billing statements, or filing lawsuits against you. But remember – you will still have to pay new utility charges for services provided to you after filing bankruptcy. If you don’t pay, the utility company can try to collect the new debts you owe, or shut off your service.
- Second, within 20 days of filing bankruptcy, you must prove to the utility company that you will be able to pay future utility bills. This is called providing “adequate assurance,” and if you don’t comply with this requirement, the utility company can disconnect your service – even if your payments are eventually discharged through bankruptcy.
4. How do I provide “adequate assurance” that I will pay future utility bills?
Adequate assurance can be in the form of:
- a letter of credit,
- cash deposit,
- certificate of deposit,
- surety bond,
- or another form of assurance that the utility and you or the trustee agree upon.
5. The utility company says my “assurance” is not acceptable. What can I do?
If you and your utility company cannot agree that your payment assurance is adequate, you can ask the bankruptcy judge to order the utility to accept your form of payment assurance. The judge may order a modification of the deposit amount.
6. I filed for bankruptcy, but my utility service was disconnected. What can I do?
Let the bankruptcy court know right away! Make sure that you listed the utilities on your bankruptcy schedules, and if you forgot, amend your paperwork. Also notify the bankruptcy court of the efforts you made to provide “adequate assurance” of future payments and proof that you paid your bills after filing.
7. What happens to my utility debts during the bankruptcy process?
If your bankruptcy case proceeds normally, your delinquent utility bills are either paid by the bankruptcy trustee or discharged by order of the bankruptcy court.
8. The utility company says I need to pay a security deposit to continue or reconnect my service, but the deposit is large and more than I can pay. Can the bankruptcy court help?
Yes, if you have filed for bankruptcy protection. A utility company may require a security deposit as a condition of continuing or reconnecting future service. However, if the utility company requires a deposit which is beyond your ability to pay, and you cannot reach an agreement with them, you have the right to ask the bankruptcy judge to reduce the deposit to an amount you can afford.
9. After my bankruptcy I paid a security deposit to get my utilities reconnected. I’ve paid my bills on time for almost a year now. Can I get my security deposit back?
Talk to your utility company. You may be able to get your security deposit back if you have paid your bills on time for the 12-month period after your bankruptcy discharge.
10. How do I contact my utility company to talk to them about my service and my bankruptcy?
Contact your utility’s customer service department. Information for PEPCO, Washington Gas, and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority are listed below.
PEPCO Customer Care
By Telephone: 202-833-7500
Servicio en Esnpanol: 202-872-4641
Available Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Walk-In Customer Service Centers
701 Ninth Street, N.W.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
2300 Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue, SE
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By Telephone: 703-750-1000
Available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except major holidays)
Customer Service Walk-In Offices
1100 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20080
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
3101 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, Washington DC 20032
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority
By Telephone: 202-354-3600
Available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.