Utilities questioned about bill collections during peak of COVID

During the height of the COVID pandemic, Connecticut's major utilities took hundreds of customers to court over unpaid bills – even garnishing their wages. On Monday, state regulators spent hours grilling them about the practice.
A state watchdog agency believes the collections violated a statewide ban on utility shut-offs that ended last summer. In March, the Office of Consumer Counsel asked for an investigation. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority held Monday’s hearing as part of the probe.
According to documents filed in the case, United Illuminating secured 158 court judgments against customers and 36 wage garnishments in 2020 and 2021. During that same period, Eversource won 45 court cases and 13 garnishments.
All those cases began before the pandemic. Once COVID hit, utilities stopped initiating new legal proceedings, which remains their policy today.

"We were not ordered to do that,” said Daniel Traynor, Eversource’s acting credit and collections director. “We did that voluntarily out of an abundance of caution for everything that was going on at that time."

Utilities say they were allowed to collect past due bills – even during the shut-off moratorium. In the meantime, UI says it's taking a "soft approach" to collections, including more flexible payment plans.
"If the customers were saying, 'No, I can't afford it,' they were, 'OK fine' and maybe they were checking back in three months or six months,” said Kathy Wasilnak, the collections supervisor for UI’s parent company, Avangrid.
PURA expect to issue a proposed decision in September and a final one a month later.