Know Your Utility Rights!
George Wiley Center's 2022 Rhode Island Utility Consumer Rights Booklet:
Click Here for Online PRINT version (print double-sided to make booklet)
Since our inception in 1981, the George Wiley Center has focused on Utility Justice.
Dedicated to organizing around utility access for over 30 years, the George Wiley Center has had a vigilant presence in Rhode Island as well as been a leader organization nationwide. George Wiley Center staff have also played an important role in supporting others interested in Utility Justice organizing, offering coaching, strategy, and alliance with grassroots groups around the country.
Over the years we have worked to win many victories, we hope you will join us to push for more humane utility policies in Rhode Island!
Some of what our people power has won so far:
- Educated thousands of Rhode Islanders on how to exercise their rights as utility consumers, through "Know Your Utility Rights" meetings, presentations, clinics, and daily individual phone consultations.
- Won extension of Winter Moratorium, offering protection from utility shut-offs to vulnerable households during the cold season.
- Won first in the country, protection from utility termination during heat waves in the summer.
- Pushed for passage of the "Henry Shelton Act" (named after George Wiley Center founder, Henry Shelton), offering affordable 10% down payments and 60% forgiveness on total back utility bills for low-income consumers.
- Coordinated annual GWC Statewide Utility Clinic, gathering under one roof support for low-income consumers on utility issues along with assistance offered by various social service agencies. Sparked and collaborated on subsequent similar clinics, modeled after our Utility Clinic, that have been offered by the utility company and other service organizations.
- Fought for and won the strongest child protection in the country, utility service protection for households in financial hardship with children under 2 years old.
- Fostered utility consumers advocating for ourselves and others, offering support, advice, and solidarity by George Wiley Center community advocates during informal hearings at the Division of Public Utilities.
- Defended ability of utility consumers to exercise our rights to a hearing at the Division of Public Utilities, with non-lawyer peer supporters or advocates (if requested and available) in attendance. In 2007 attempts were made to limit attendance to only attorneys, as a response to the George Wiley Center informing consumers of their rights and attending their hearings in support. But the George Wiley Center fought back and we were able to preserve the practice of non-attorney supportive attendees in the interest of broader democracy and empowering access to consumer rights.
- Won discounted Electric & Gas Rates for low-income households.
- Challenged the Division of Public Utilities to follow their own rules and through collective action and pressure successfully pushed for Emergency Restoration of utility service to medically vulnerable households. The rules that offer protection for utility consumers clearly state that the Division has the authority to order restoration of utility service in cases where health is at risk due to shut-off. We have successfully pressed for emergency restoration for medically vulnerable utility consumers whose utilities had been shut off.
- Successfully defended existing utility protections to vulnerable households in RI Utility Termination Rules. In 2013 drastic changes were proposed to "revise" the termination rules that would have significantly weakened or eliminated protections from utility termination, many of the protections that the George Wiley Center had fought for and won in the first place. We rallied and mobilized directly affected consumers whose protections would have been at risk (elderly, low-income, domestic abuse victims, people with limited access to computers, people who suffer in the extreme heat, etc.), as well as allied groups and others, and with collective pressure we WON. At the end of 2014, the PUC agreed to close their original proposed docket, thereby preserving the existing utility protections that were in place.
- Proposed and won Emergency Regulations to allow affordable down payments for utility consumers to maintain or restore service, rules in place for 1-2 months in Nov to Dec, in recognition of the onset of winter and the need to make sure households have service turned back on before the cold season.
The George Wiley Center fights to stop utility shut-offs. We recognize that utilities are a basic need and it is an injustice to terminate service to those who cannot pay unaffordable bills.
If you receive a termination notice or are currently shut off, call us (401-728-5555) to find practical support, how to exercise your rights as a utility customer, and ways to prevent shut-off. Our strength comes from your involvement. Together we can push for the solutions, to make utility policies and practices that are fair!
Protecting Utility Service for Medically Vulnerable Households
(Must be filled out and up to date, for those with protected status on file, utility terminations banned until at least Sept. 26, 2016.)
For years the George Wiley Center has been fighting the injustice of shut-offs on consumers with medical conditions or disabilities. Unfortunately many people have assumed they were protected after their doctors completed medical protection forms, but then faced termination due to a loophole where the RI Division of Public Utilities granted permission to the utility company to shut off protected status households. We believe such termination procedures have been carried out far too often (thousands each year), in violation both of common decency and the existing regulations.
Through the Lifeline Project the George Wiley Center is continuing the push to stop shut-offs in medically vulnerable households, in a collaboration since 2015 with the Rhode Island Center for Justice, an organization offering free legal representation to eligible medically vulnerable utility consumers. Come to our monthly meeting, first Weds of the month, to learn about your rights, share your story, and find ways we can work together to fight back, to ensure utility service for those with medical conditions.
From our work on the Lifeline Project, a lawsuit was filed in September, 2015 on behalf of medically vulnerable and/or disabled consumers whose utility service had been terminated. This lawsuit is ongoing and we hope to reach lasting positive changes in practice and procedures with both the utility company and state agency that oversees utility termination protections.
As a result of the lawsuit, the utility company has created new protection forms that must be filled out by all utility consumers who have a person with a medical condition or disability in the household. It is important to follow the instructions on filling out the forms and a good idea to confirm with the utility company that the form has been received and your medical protection/ disability status is on file and up to date. If your household has a medically/disabled protected status, your utility service is protected from termination until at least September 26 (due to a temporary order from the judge, while the lawsuit continues). For this reason, it is very important to make sure you fill out the new required medically/disabled protected status form.
Here are the NEW REQUIRED FORMS:
Contact the George Wiley Center for more info, to get involved pushing for utility justice, or if your utility service has been wrongly terminated while you had a medical or disabled protected status on file.
The Henry Shelton Act
Named after the founder of the George Wiley Center who fought for decades to advance utility access and affordability, The Henry Shelton Act passed into Rhode Island law in 2011. Ask your utility company about the Henry Shelton Plan, an arrearage forgiveness plan where low-income households with high utility bills can have 60% forgiven from the total amount owed.
Click below for more information and how to calculate your potential savings with the Henry Shelton Plan:
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is a vital resource for many in Rhode Island, offering monetary assistance for heating expenses in the winter. For information on how to sign up for a LIHEAP grant, call or visit your local CAP (Community Action Program) agency, or visit the LIHEAP web page.
Click below to see LIHEAP eligibility guidelines as well as requirements for applying in Rhode Island:
Your Right to a Hearing at the Division of Public Utilities
What to do if faced with a shut-off notice:
First, call the George Wiley Center at (401) 728-5555. Then, there are four steps you can do after calling us.
1. Call the company & make a reasonable offer based on what is affordable for your family.
If your offer is refused by the company, go to the next step.
2. Call the Division of Public Utilities & request an informal hearing.
Here's the phone number, (401) 780-9700 and remember, you have a right to this hearing.
You can demand a bilingual hearing officer if you need one.
This should temporarily stop any shutoff. Also, put your request in writing to: Division of Public Utilities, 89 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI 02888.
After your hearing has been scheduled, go to the next step.
3. Contact us at (401) 728-5555 if you have any problems in following these steps.
We work together to advocate as a group on common issues. When available, we can send an advocate with you or advise you on how to prepare for your informal hearing for an AFFORDABLE ENERGY PAYMENT PLAN. If you are interested in becoming an advocate for others — let us know.
If you are not satisfied with your written answer from the Division after the informal hearing, go to the next step.
4. Request a second, formal hearing.
Here's the phone number, (401) 941-4500 and remember, until that hearing is held, your service cannot be shut off.
Tips for representing yourself can be downloaded here: