Upstate utilities resume disconnects and late fees, but policies differ

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(WSPA) – If you fall behind on your water or electric bill don’t assume your utility provider will be forgiving because of the pandemic.

We checked in with various service companies throughout the Upstate and found most already have, or will soon, resume disconnections and late fees.

In one Upstate city in particular, those disconnections happen a lot sooner than you might think.

“It was very unnerving. Really I never had that happen to me before.”

That’s how Ronald Brooks said he felt when Gaffney Board of Public Works turned his power off. You would think he was pretty late on his payment, right?

Nope.

The policy of Gaffney BPW is to disconnect service one day after the due date if no payment is received.

“Usually if I miss a payment they give me a few times to pay it,” Brooks said. “Here you don’t. I just don’t understand that. I think that’s so unfair but what can you do?”

Business Manager Clary Phillips said Gaffney BPW waives the late fee once in a 24-month period and hand delivers the late notice to the doorstep.

After that, it’s one phone call on the due date, which is then followed by a shut off the very next day.

“We do have a more stringent disconnection policy, but that’s how we are able to keep our rates so low. We have the lowest rates in the state,” Phillips said.

Gaffney BPW showed us this comparison for electricity with their rates the lowest in the Upstate.

And as for water, the Rural Infrustructure Authority shows their rates are far below what others pay in Cherokee County.

But in other parts of the Upstate, like Greenville, not only is the water price significantly lower, but the policy is much more forgiving, especially during COVID-19.

Whereas Gaffney BPW resumed disconnects in May when the governor’s mandate was lifted, Greenville Water just started back last week and gave customers three months notice.

“Starting in May, we started reaching out to customers to connect with them about their past due amounts. So we let them know their accounts were past due and let them know about the various payment options they could make. And then we continued those calls well into June, July and August,” Emerald Clark with Greenville Water said.

7 News asked Gaffney BPW if they felt one phone call was enough communication before the next day disconnect.

“I think by giving the phone call we are already doing more than some companies and it’s not like that’s the first notice they have that their bill is due. They receive a bill in the mail a month prior. They know when their due date is,” Phillips said.

Greenville Water has gone back to a 10-day grace period after the due date.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy just announced it won’t resume disconnects until October, though the utility did send notice to state regulators asking that COVID-19 related costs like “waived late fees and service disconnections” be “considered in a future rate change request.”

Brooks believes Gaffney BPW should revisit its policy, especially in these uncertain times.

“I just think they should at least give us five extra days, or something like that. Especially during this COVID and unemployment,” Brooks said.

Keep in mind, if you are struggling to pay your bill, don’t wait until after the due date to call. If you reach out to any of these utilites before you’re past due, most will work out a payment plan with you.

They can also connect you with programs in the area that may be able to offer financial assistance.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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