NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — The parent company for United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas will pay $4.48 million for not informing customers about payment plans during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an announcement Tuesday from the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel.
“UI should have been seeking to assist low-income customers during the unprecedented financial challenges that Covid-19 inflicted upon them, not placing greater pressure on those already overburdened customers and their families,” Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said in the written announcement.
Avangrid, which owns the three companies, referred more than 21,000 people to a collections firm since April 2020, according to the state. Those customers were collectively contacted more than 110,000 times since then, but Avangrid never told customers about a payment plan — even with a shut-off moratorium in place.
Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said she is pleased with the decision to fine Avangrid for “the harmful pursuit of wage garnishments and failure to inform some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable customers about the payment plan specifically designed to assist struggling customers during the pandemic.”
The Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel also found that Avangrad referred inactive accounts to collection agencies without giving customers adequate notice that their information would be shared.
“The United Illuminating (UI), Connecticut Natural Gas (CNG), and Southern Connecticut Gas (SCG) are aware of the draft decision issued by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority today and are reviewing the draft conclusions and findings,” Gage Frank, a spokesperson for the three companies, said in a written statement to News 8. “The Companies maintain that they have respected and complied with the moratorium, and that the collection activity involving the accounts that are the subject of the investigation pre-dated the moratorium. Caring for our customers is the highest priority for UI, SCG, and CNG, and reflecting our commitment to help them during these challenging times, the companies continue to offer energy assistance programs and payment plans for those facing difficulties paying their bills.”
The company has 19 days to request a hearing, and until Nov. 19 to file written exceptions to the filing.
Most of the fine will go to Operation Fuel, a nonprofit that helps those struggling with energy bills, according to the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel.