Standard billing rules overhaul protects customers. New guidelines address medical protection, data security, small businesses

November 21, 2017

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) today approved proposed updated Consumer Standards and Billing Practices for Electric and Natural Gas Service that strengthen protections for utility customers in areas such as data privacy and service to households caring for critical care customers.

Commonly known as “billing rules,” the parameters are authorized by state law and codify the practices that regulated utilities, including Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co., must follow when they bill residential and commercial customers for gas or electric service. The rules protect customers from discriminatory or predatory billing practices, and safeguard a utility’s right to be paid for the services it provides.

The rewrite process, which began in June 2014, combined separate rules for residential (Mich Admin Code, R 460.101-460.169) and non-residential (Mich Admin Code, R 460.1601-460.1640) customers into one set. The residential rules were last updated in 2007 and the non-residential rules in 2008.

“These improved rules provide critical protections for Michigan’s residents, especially the most vulnerable who are dealing with extremely serious health issues,” said MPSC Chairman Sally Talberg. “The rules also strengthen practices to shield utility customers from identity theft, which is extremely important as so much of our routine transactions are conducted online.”

The new rules (Case No. U-18120) are expected to take effect in early December, after they are filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Some of the key changes:

§  If a household can’t pay its bill, a utility shall restore power or avoid shutting it off if there is an identified critical care customer in the home and interrupting service would be immediately life threatening. Utilities will ensure that service is provided for as long as the person remains a critical care customer with an inability to pay. A critical care customer is somebody who requires home medical equipment or a life support system and provides to a utility a Commission-approved medical certification from a medical facility or physician.

 

  • Utilities must have in place data privacy procedures that assure customers that their personal information will not be distributed to third parties without a customer’s knowledge or consent.
  • Customers will be able to enter payment plans with the utility over the telephone.
  • The definition of “small non-residential customer” has been expanded to include those who annually use less than 300 million cubic feet of natural gas or less than 30,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Small non-residential customers will now be able to enter payment plans and are granted the right to have a customer hearing before a utility hearing officer.   
  • Rules have also been added to address issues related to new metering technology, payment balance transfers, and unauthorized use of utility service. 

In conjunction with adopting the new rules, the Commission also approved a common medical certification form (Case No. U-18479) that customers of all rate-regulated utilities will use to verify a medical condition to prevent having their utility services discontinued for nonpayment of bills.

The form will be available on utility websites and must be completed by a physician or public health professional to verify a customer’s medical emergency or critical care condition.

Customers who have questions about the billing rules or who want to file a complaint against a utility should call the MPSC’s Customer Assistance line at 1-800-292-9555.

For an Issue Brief about the new billing rules, click here.

For more information about the MPSC, please visit www.michigan.gov/mpsc or sign up for one of its listservs to keep up to date on MPSC matters.

DISCLAIMER: This document was prepared to aid the public’s understanding of certain matters before the Commission and is not intended to modify, supplement, or be a substitute for the Commission’s orders. The Commission’s orders are the official action of the Commission.

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