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Consumer Protection

The Public Utility Commission is required to enforce certain consumer protection rules. These rules protect consumers from mistreatment by electric, telecommunications and water service providers. They also help ensure that certain types of consumers do not go without electric, telephone and water service. The purpose of this page is to provide up-to-date information on those consumer protection rules.

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Critical Care and Chronic Condition

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) has changed the rules on Critical Care status and disconnections. The PUC also added a status type separate from Critical Care, called Chronic Condition. Some electric consumers who had Critical Care status under the old rule will be reclassified as Chronic Condition consumers when their status expires and they reapply. The new guidelines took effect on January 1, 2011.

Critical Care

Critical Care status is now only for consumers who need electricity, because they are on life support equipment. Once granted, this status is good for two years. A Critical Care consumer who is unable to pay their bill and is in danger of being disconnected must do the following to maintain service:

As long as the consumer has followed the instructions above, the REP will not disconnect their service for 63 days. At the end of the 63 days, the consumer must begin the process again if they are still unable to pay their bill. If a consumer does not pursue the 63-day protection and is going to be disconnected, the REP must send written (or email if agreed) notice of disconnection at least 21 days prior to the disconnection, to both the consumer and the consumer's secondary contact. The transmission and distribution utility (TDU) will also contact the consumer and their secondary contact by phone. If the TDU cannot reach the customer or secondary contact by phone, the TDU will visit the premises. If there is no one on the premises, the TDU will leave a door hanger.

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Chronic Condition

This type of status does not protect against disconnection for non-pay. Chronic Condition status is for the following consumers:

Chronic Condition status is good for 90 days. If a Chronic Condition consumer does not pay their electric bill, the customer's REP must send written (or email if agreed) notice of disconnection at least 21 days prior to the disconnection, to both the consumer and the consumer's secondary contact.

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IMPORTANT:

Consumers who have Critical Care status with their REP under the old rule will remain covered until their application comes up for renewal. At the time of renewal, the consumer must meet the new requirements to be considered for Critical Care or Chronic Condition status.

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Payment Assistance Programs

Critical Care and Chronic Condition consumers, as well as low-income consumers are strongly encouraged to enroll in the following payment assistance programs:

Electric Payment Assistance Programs

LITE-UP Texas

The Low-income Electric Discount Program (LITE-UP Texas) provides a discount on qualified low-income consumer's’ monthly cost of electric service during the months of May, June, July, August and September. There are no late fees, and deposit payments are in installments.

Please see this important update about the status of the LITE-UP Texas discount.

For more information on this program, please visit: http://www.puc.state.tx.us/consumer/lowincome/Assistance.aspx.


Victims of Family Violence

If you are a victim of family violence, you can have your electric service deposit waived. To qualify as a victim of family violence, you will need to provide a Texas Council on Family Violence deposit waiver certification letter.

The letter must be filled out by family violence center personnel, treating medical personnel, law enforcement personnel, a Texas District Attorney or County Attorney, Office of the Attorney General personnel, or a grantee of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation.

The letter must be FAXED directly to the Retail Electric Provider (REP) using the REP's toll-free FAX number. A copy of the deposit waiver certification letter can be obtained from the Texas Council on Family Violence's Website at http://www.tcfv.org/resources/forms-information.

Waiver forms for this program are available at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/consumer/lowincome/Assistance.aspx.

 

TDHCA Payment Assistance

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) provides relief to low income elderly and/or disabled households by providing financial aid, paying up to four of the highest bills during the year. For information, please call toll-free 1-877-399-8939 or visit their website at: www.tdhca.state.tx.us/ea/index.htm.

 

Active Military and Veterans Assistance

Texas Veterans Portal

Texas Military Forces

Joining Community Forces

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Telephone Payment Assistance Programs

 

Lifeline

Lifeline is a government benefit program supported by the Universal Service Fund that provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers. Lifeline helps ensure that eligible consumers have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and emergency services.

The Lifeline program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands. Consumers with proper proof of eligibility may be qualified to enroll. To participate in the program, consumers must have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in a qualifying state, federal or Tribal assistance program.

To participate in the program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in one of the following assistance programs:

Federal rules prohibit eligible low-income consumers from receiving more than one Lifeline discount per household. An eligible consumer may receive a discount on either a wireline or wireless service, but not both. A consumer whose household currently is receiving more than one Lifeline service must select a single Lifeline provider and contact the other provider to de-enroll from their program. Consumers violating this rule may also be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties.

The Lifeline program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). USAC is responsible for data collection and maintenance, support calculation, and disbursement for the low-income program. USAC's website provides information regarding administrative aspects of the low-income program, as well as program requirements.

Lifeline reduces the basic monthly telephone rate by $7 and waives the federal subscriber line charge up to $6.50 for a total maximum discount of $13.50 for those who qualify. This program does not cover the cost of additional services such as caller ID or voice messaging. In addition, a reduction for installation of local telephone service may be available to these consumers through the Link-Up program.

You can apply for Lifeline Discounts by calling toll free 1-866-4LITEUP (866-454-8387) or by downloading the application below.


Visit the Lifeline Support website at www.lifelinesupport.org for information about local phone companies as well as guidelines for applying to the Link-Up program.

Lifline FAQs

 

Link-Up

The Link-Up program reduces the cost of starting new telephone service to qualifying low-income residents.

A resident is qualified if the current total household income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A resident is also qualified if they receive at least one of the following:

Link-Up offers a 50 percent discount (up to $30) for telephone installation charges. Link-Up does not cover more than one phone line in the home, but the program does include an option for delaying payment on the balance of the connection fee, up tp $200, for up to one year without interest charges. Link-Up does not offer financial assistance for additional services on the telephone, such as caller ID or voice messaging.

Visit the Lifeline Support website at www.lifelinesupport.org for information about local phone companies as well as guidelines for applying to the Link-Up program.

For more information about state-sponsored utility payment assistance programs, please visit the Public Utility Commission's website at: http://www.puc.state.tx.us/consumer/lowincome/Assistance.aspx.

 

Lifeline for Cellular Telephones

Lifeline support is now available for wireless phones through SafeLink Wireless. SafeLink Wireless was created by TracFone Wireless, Inc. when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company to offer Lifeline to qualifying low-income subscribers.

Instead of receiving a monthly telephone bill for Lifeline service, SafeLink converts the total amount of discounted service into minutes each month for one year. The cell phone offers in-demand features: voicemail, text, three-way calling, call waiting, caller ID and access to 911.

Texas consumers who qualify for the Lifeline disount for home telephone service will also qualify for the Lifeline cellular telephone program. For more information on the Lifeline cellular program please visit one of the following provider websites:

SafeLink Wireless - www.safelinkwireless.com/Safelink/

For Enrollment and Plan Changes Support: 1-800-977-3768

For Technical Support ONLY: 1-800-378-1684

Q Link Wireless - www.qlinkwireless.com

For Enrollment and Support: 1-855-754-6543

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