Local News

Bills coming due for NC utility customers as protection against shutoffs expires

Posted July 21, 2020 7:34 p.m. EDT

— An order protecting North Carolinians from incurring late fees on their utility bills and having their services shut off expires at the end of the month.

More than 1.45 million utility accounts have gone unpaid in the state since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, and public and private utility companies are creating their own extensions to ease residents back into paying.

"Sometimes you have to decide, am I going to send an extra few dollars to the water company or buy food to put on the table," Wake Forest resident Scott Olson said.

The father of two has been out of work since April. He said he finds himself asking that question more often these days.

"I am not alone in this. I am sure there are many people who are in this position," he said.

Olson said he’s benefited from Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order prohibiting utility companies from charging late fees or cutting service to people who haven’t paid their bills. However, the order ends at the end of the month, and he’s not sure how he’ll pay for his water and electricity.

"You think, 'What can I cut back on?’ Well, everything has been cut back on. There’s no more trimming of the fat. There’s no fat left," he said.

Public and private utility companies seem to be aware of that. Duke Energy said that, even after the order expires, users will have a month to figure out a payment plan.

"We will continue to encourage customers who are, understandably, behind in their payments to pay what they can now to avoid large bill balances that may be difficult to manage later," Duke spokeswoman Meghan Miles said. "Regardless of the timeline, all customers will have at least one full billing cycle after we announce the resumption of standard operations to prepare, discuss options for their situation and make payment arrangements."

In Raleigh 4,000 sewer and water accounts have gone unpaid, racking up $2.5 million in outstanding payments. Assistant Director of Public Utilities Aaron Brower said the city won’t start collecting on past-due bills or executing shutoffs until at least 45 days after the expiration – about mid-September.

"We still have to iron out a lot of details there, and so it may be later than that," Brower said. "We know there is a lot of people out there struggling with unemployment, so it’s a balancing act for us."

About 98 percent of users have paid their bills on time, he said, and he encourages residents who are struggling to look into resources for financial assistance, such as the city's Utility Customer Assistance Program.

Raleigh utility customers who want to set up a payment plan need to email customercare@raleighnc.gov or call 919-996-3245.

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