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Summer 2016
Vol. 2, Issue 2


Summer Series: Issue II of II - What Are My Rights as a Customer?

Many consumers are interested in better understanding their rights when shopping for a competitive energy supplier. Many people also have questions about how to respond when approached by a competitive energy supplier sales representative offering the company’s energy products. Suppliers understand that consumers may have questions and concerns, and this issue of the newsletter will better equip you with the information you need to be an even more informed consumer, making the decisions that best meet your energy needs.
 
Just like the protections you have as a consumer of other products and services (e.g., cars, phone service providers, health insurance, etc.), you enjoy certain rights as an energy consumer, too. These rights are in place to protect you. Although consumer rights vary slightly from state to state, there are several general protections that exist everywhere.

Slamming is Prohibited
 
You cannot be legally switched from one competitive energy supplier to another without your explicit consent. On the few occasions when this happens it is known as “slamming,” and in addition to financial penalties, a competitive energy supplier could also lose its license for engaging in this type of behavior. Depending on the state where you live, however, a competitive energy supplier may be allowed to assign your contract to another supplier, but must adhere to certain requirements, including customer notification, when doing so. Also, depending on where you live, the community in which you live may be able to enroll you in a municipal opt-out aggregation program with your implied, rather than explicit, consent.

Utility Emergency Response
 
Despite having switched to a competitive energy supplier for your gas and/or electric supply, you are still serviced by the utility in your local service territory for delivery and equipment maintenance. In any type of emergency, such as a gas leak, a service disruption, etc., your first call should be to your utility, which is REQUIRED to respond to the issue.

Transparent Billing and Contracting Practices
 
The bill you receive from your competitive energy supplier, or from your utility if it bills on behalf of the supplier, must clearly state the price you are paying for your commodity and other charges such as late payment charges, interest and taxes. In addition, the terms and conditions or contract with your supplier should clearly state all important terms such as any early termination fees, price, length of term, promotions, etc.

Termination of Service
 
You must be notified in advance if your competitive energy supplier intends to terminate service.
 
Privacy
 
As a consumer, you have the right to require that your personal or business records be kept confidential unless you give written or electronic consent otherwise.
 
Are supplier companies allowed to solicit products and services?
 
Most states allow for the following types of supplier soliciting practices: telemarketing, direct mail campaigns, online offers, and door-to-door sales. It is critical that consumers know they have the right to be protected from unfair, deceptive, fraudulent and anti-competitive practices of energy suppliers. There are several general procedures sales associates must adhere to:
  • Sales representatives, either by phone or in person, will identify themselves and the company they represent, and explain that the supplier is not affiliated with the utility;
  • A door-to-door salesperson should have an identification badge with the salesperson’s name, the company name, and a photograph;
  • Sales representatives should not promise savings without explaining how the savings are generated;
  • Sales representatives should offer or agree to provide you more information to review before making a decision, and respect a request not to be solicited again; and
  • If you do elect to sign up with a supplier through a sales representative, they should provide you written or electronic confirmation of your contract. Many states and jurisdictions allow a small window of time (called a “rescission period”) during which you can cancel the contract without penalty if you change your mind.
If consumers ever feel uncomfortable or unsure about a sales pitch, they should end the conversation and visit the ACCES website for more information or contact their state public utility commission.

No denial of service based on class

You cannot be denied service because of your race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, source of income, receipt of public benefits, family status, sexual orientation or geographic location within your service territory.
 
Conclusion
 
Just like with any other products and services in other industries, consumers have certain rights when it comes to shopping for their energy to power, cool, and heat their home, apartment, or business. To learn more about specific laws on consumer rights in your state, visit the Consumer Tools page on the ACCES website (scroll towards the bottom) or contact your state public utility commission.  
 
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
 
-The ACCES team






New on CompetitiveEnergy.org

ACCES recently held its annual meeting in Washington D.C. and has mapped out some exciting consumer education initiatives for 2016-17! Stay tuned for a forthcoming news release.

ACCES was proud to be a sponsor at the annual Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC) Conference in June!
 




About ACCES

The American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers (ACCES) is a group of competitive retail natural gas and electricity suppliers committed to education and outreach to help consumers better understand and take advantage of the benefits of energy choice.














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