Natural Gas Customers’ Bill of Rights
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the state regulatory agency that has authority over investor-owned public utilities, including local natural gas companies. The PUCO regulates the rates customers pay for natural gas distribution, monitors the market-based rates charged for natural gas supplies and ensures that companies provide quality, safe and reliable natural gas service.
This information summarizes some of the rights and responsibilities you have as a natural gas customer in Ohio, and the rules local natural gas companies with more than 75,000 customers are required to follow. A wide range of issues are addressed, including installation, metering, billing and customer service.
Keep in mind that this is a summary of the rules regarding your rights and does not take their place. For more information, please contact the PUCO or your local natural gas company.
Contact the PUCO
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
180 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43215
(800) 686-PUCO (7826)
(800) 686-1570 (TDD/TTY)
Contact your Natural Gas Company
Columbia Gas of Ohio
Dominion East Ohio
Duke Energy Ohio
Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio
Your Natural Gas Service
Installation of Service
When you need to establish new natural gas service, contact your local natural gas company. The company will tell you what steps you must take to set up service. Be sure to call two to four weeks before you would like natural gas service to begin, to allow for any construction work or inspections to be completed in time for the service to be ready when you need it. The natural gas company will typically install your service within five business days if no new construction is required and within 20 business days if your residence requires the installation of a new service line or meter.
Your natural gas company is required to notify you if the installation is expected to take longer than the usual five or 20 days. They must notify you of the delay, the reasons for the delay, the steps being taken to complete the work and the date the installation will be complete.
When you sign up for new natural gas service, your natural gas company will verify your credit. New customers must meet one or more of the following criteria to establish credit with the company:
The customer is a property owner or meets the legally-accepted practices to verify credit.
The customer demonstrates financial responsibility through a variety of information including, but not limited to, the name of their employer, place of employment, position, length of service, letters of reference and names of credit cards.
The customer has had a prior account with the natural gas company for the same class of service within the past two years and, in the prior year of service, did not have a late bill more than twice and did not have service disconnected for nonpayment, fraud or tampering.
The customer can provide someone with good credit who will pay for up to 60 days of service if they fail to pay their bill.
If you do not meet any of these criteria, you may be required to pay a deposit to establish credit with the company. Also, if you are an existing natural gas customer who has not made full payment, or made payment arrangements, for a bill that contains a past due balance, your company may require you to make a deposit to reestablish creditworthiness.Your natural gas company may not charge you a deposit of more than 130 percent of your estimated average monthly bill for regulated services.
If the company keeps your deposit for more than six months, the company has to pay at least 3 percent interest on the deposit. After 12 months, the company will review your account and determine if the deposit should be returned.
If your service with the company is terminated, either by your request or by disconnection for nonpayment, the company will apply the deposit plus any interest accrued to the final bill. You will receive a refund of your deposit for any amount that exceeds the amount owed in the final bill.
If you paid a deposit to your natural gas company and choose to enroll with an alternative natural gas supplier, the natural gas company must refund any portion of the deposit that applies to services the company is no longer providing.
There are several options available for customers having trouble paying their natural gas bill:
If you are unable to pay your bill, contact your natural gas company to make payment arrangements before the payment is due. The PUCO requires natural gas companies to offer certain payment plans to residential customers, and each company may offer additional payment options. These payment plans can include the 1/3 Extended Payment Plan, 1/6 Extended Payment Plan and budget payment plans. Contact your natural gas company for more information about payment options.
Additional programs, including the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), are available for qualifying households to help pay utility bills. A fact sheet is available from the PUCO with details and eligibility requirements for these assistance programs.
Scheduling Service Appointments
Your natural gas company must provide you with an expected arrival time window of four hours or less for all appointments requiring your presence. If the company cannot meet a scheduled appointment, it must attempt to notify you and arrange a new appointment date and time. When visiting your property, natural gas company employees must provide you with identification and the reason they are at your property.
Disconnection of Service
- If you do not pay your natural gas bill by the due date, your natural gas company will send a 14-day notice before disconnecting your service. This 14-day notice may appear on your bill. To prevent disconnection, you must pay the amount owed by the disconnection date listed on the notice.
- If your service has already been disconnected, you must pay the amount owed. If you make the payment before 12:30 p.m., your service will be restored on the same day. If payment is made after 12:30 p.m., service will be reconnected on the next business day. You can make your payment by credit card, check, over the phone or at an authorized agent. Keep in mind that you may also have to pay a security deposit and a reconnection fee before your service is restored.
- If you wish to guarantee the reconnection of your service on the same day that you make the payment, you must provide the company with proof of your payment by 12:30 p.m. and notify them that you wish to have your service reconnected that same day.
- If a member of your household has a medical condition where the disconnection of natural gas service would be especially dangerous to their health, you may be eligible for a medical certification that would retain or restore service for a period of 30 days. Medical certifications may only be used three times per household in a 12-month period and must be completed by a certified health care professional.
- If you feel there is an error on your bill, contact your natural gas company first. You can contact the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) if you are unable to resolve the dispute with the company. However, you should still pay the amount on your bill that is not in dispute. The company cannot disconnect service for nonpayment of a billing amount that is in dispute, if the customer has registered a complaint with the PUCO. The details of the PUCO complaint process are explained in a later section.
- Even if you are current on your monthly bill payments, your natural gas company can disconnect your service if it is unable to access your meter for a reading at least once every 12 months. If your meter is inside your home or behind a locked gate and the company is unable to reach it, you may need to make special arrangements.
- Your natural gas company can disconnect service for nonpayment year-round, including during the winter months. From Nov. 1 through April 15, natural gas companies must give you an additional 10-day notice before disconnecting your service. Several energy assistance programs are available to help customers stay connected during the winter heating season. Contact the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) to learn more.
Your Natural Gas Meter
Your natural gas meter measures the amount of gas you use each month and is used by the natural gas company to determine your monthly bill. Natural gas company employees have the right to access to your meter for the purposes of reading, repairing or testing the meter. When visiting your property, natural gas company employees must provide you with identification and the reason they are at your property.
At a minimum, your natural gas company must read your meter once every 12 months. Most companies attempt to obtain meter readings at least once every other month. Actual meter readings must also be conducted at your request when you set up new service or terminate service at a location. If your monthly bill has been estimated for two consecutive months or you believe your meter is malfunctioning, you can request up to two additional meter readings per year. If your meter is found to be malfunctioning, your natural gas company will conduct testing and provide a new meter at no charge to you.
From time to time, the company’s employees may not be able to access your meter. In these instances, estimated readings will be used.
To determine estimated usage, your natural gas company uses a formula that takes many factors, including historical usage and the outside temperature, into account. For most customers, the difference between the estimated and actual usage is adjusted when the meter is read by the natural gas company the following month. However, for customers who have inaccessible meters, bills are sometimes estimated for several months in a row. If and when this happens, you have the right to read the meter yourself and call in the reading to the natural gas company.
Reading your own Meter
Reading your own meter is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you are paying only for the natural gas you use. It is simple to do, and most natural gas companies will let you submit your meter reading over the phone or through the Internet.
If you have a complaint or question about your natural gas service, you should first contact your local natural gas company. The company's address and phone number are listed on your bill.
The company is required to investigate every customer complaint received, and complaints should be resolved within 10 business days. If the company is unable to resolve your complaint within 10 business days, it must provide you with a status report every five business days following the initial period.
If your complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction with the natural gas company, ask to speak to a supervisor. If this still does not help, contact the PUCO consumer call center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or register a complaint online. The PUCO will review the rules with you and, if needed, work with you and the company to resolve the problem.
If you cannot reach an agreement with your local natural company gas through the PUCO consumer call center, you have the right to file a formal complaint.
Residential customers have the option to represent themselves in a formal complaint proceeding or may hire an attorney. Corporations must be represented by an attorney during the PUCO formal complaint process.
When you file a formal complaint with the PUCO, the company is given the opportunity to respond to the complaint. A settlement conference may be scheduled by the attorney examiner as a final attempt to informally resolve the complaint. If the PUCO determines that reasonable grounds exist for proceeding with your complaint, the PUCO will mail you a notice setting a hearing date and time. The hearing will take place before an attorney examiner at the PUCO offices in Columbus.
A formal hearing is similar to a court hearing, with a court reporter recording the proceedings. You have the responsibility to prove the merits of the complaint. The attorney examiner will consider the testimony and evidence presented and make a recommendation to the PUCO. The PUCO will then review the evidence and make a decision.
Natural Gas Choice
If you are a customer of Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy Ohio or Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio, you may choose your natural gas supplier. Whether you stay with your local natural gas company or switch to an alternative supplier, your local utility will continue to deliver the gas to your home and respond to safety concerns. The PUCO is committed to ensuring that customers will continue to receive safe, reliable and adequate natural gas service.
Apples to Apples Rate Comparison Charts
The PUCO regularly updates a comparison chart of the certified suppliers’ offers. The chart includes a list of PUCO-certified suppliers that are actively enrolling customers, suppliers’ phone numbers and Web sites, price options, total rate, average annual cost of each plan and basic terms of the contracts offered.
The PUCO produces the Apples to Apples charts to provide consumers with a snapshot comparison of current natural gas supplier price options and contract terms. The PUCO updates the Apples to Apples charts on a regular basis and verifies each supplier offer to ensure accuracy. The charts list only the certified suppliers that are actively enrolling new customers. As with all contracts, consumers should carefully read and understand all terms and conditions before signing any forms or agreeing to enroll with a supplier for natural gas service.
Before entering into an agreement with a potential supplier, make sure that the company is on the certified supplier list. Certified suppliers have met the PUCO's tough managerial, technical and financial standards. Further, the PUCO may take certain actions against suppliers who violate customer protections and rules.
Natural Gas Supplier Deposits
The contract with your natural gas supplier will outline the information regarding deposit requirements. If you are required to pay a deposit to the supplier, the deposit will be applied to your final bill and then refunded to you when service with the supplier ends.
Disconnection of Service or Termination of Contracts
Before you decide to end the contract with your natural gas supplier, check the contract termination procedures outlined in the contract. There may be a penalty associated with ending your contract early. However, you can terminate the contract with your supplier without penalty if you move outside the supplier’s service area or into an area where the supplier charges a different price, or if the contract allows the supplier to charge a different price in response to changing market conditions.
If you have a complaint regarding your natural gas supplier, you should follow the same complaint procedure outlined for local natural gas companies. Contact the supplier to file a complaint; the supplier’s address and telephone number should be listed on your natural gas bill. If a service representative is unable to handle the complaint, ask to speak to a supervisor. If this does not help, contact the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) for assistance in resolving the complaint.