Utility Reminder

Wisconsin’s winter moratorium laws prohibit your utilities from being shut-off, even if you are delinquent on your utility bill, until April 15, 2016.
Case law from 2012 has made it such that a Chapter 128 filing is no longer a guarantee of staying a utility disconnection.  Although Wisconsin Public Service has continued to honor the Chapter 128 stay, the only guaranteed way of preventing a disconnection (aside from catching up on the past-due amounts you owe) is to file bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy cases take a while to prepare properly.  If you are struggling with your utility bills this winter, consult with an attorney now.  Don’t wait until April to explore your options.

Utility Reminder

As the temperatures plunge below zero for much of the week, a lot of furnaces are going to be working overtime.  For many of you, the expensive gas and electric bills will mean becoming delinquent on your utilities.
The winter moratorium protects you from a shut-off until April 15.
If you fall behind on your utilities and are facing a shut-off in the spring, call an attorney now.  Don’t wait until April 14 to do something about it – you won’t be the only person with this problem.
Wisconsin Public Service has been cooperating with Chapter 128 debtors to avoid shut off, despite a Milwaukee County court decision that ruled they were under no obligation to do so.  Chapter 128 can be a fast and inexpensive way to get relief from a utility shut-off.  WE Energies customers, however, cannot rely on a Chapter 128 stay.

Bitter cold wind chills and expensive heating bills.

Though the twenty-below temperatures and fifty-below wind chills that have plagued northeastern Wisconsin over the past several weeks seem to be over (knock on wood), cold temperatures will persist for some time (as one would expect they would, since it is only the beginning of February).
So, today is as good a day as any to remind you that if you’re falling behind on your utility bills and can’t afford to catch back up before the winter moratorium ends, you should consider consulting with a bankruptcy attorney now.  Come April 15th, the power companies can shut you off if you’re delinquent, but bankruptcy can prevent utility disconnects.
April 15th is still 2-1/2 months away, but remember that it takes time to prepare a proper case, so don’t wait until the last minute to do something.  Also keep in mind that Chapter 128 is no longer a viable method for preventing a disconnection.
For what it’s worth, Punxsutawney Phil is indicating six more weeks of winter.  Though, if you ask me, six weeks of winter is an early spring in this state, to say nothing of the questionable wisdom of using marmot-modeled forecasts.

Winter Moratorium – what it doesn’t mean.

In less than two months, Wisconsin’s winter moratorium will be in effect.  From November 1 through April 15, utility companies such as Wisconsin Public Service, WE Energies, WP&L, and Alliant – will be prohibited from disconnecting utility services for nonpayment.  Wis. Adm. Code PSC 113.0304.  However, if utility services are disconnected before November 1, the administrative rules do not compel the utility companies to restore services on November 1.If your utilities become disconnected before November 1 and you need to get those services restored before the cold winter weather arrives, you will need to take action.  The calendar changing from October to November will not automatically renew your services.  You can restore services by bringing your account current.Alternatively, filing bankruptcy (either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) imposes an automatic stay that will restore your utility services.  Additionally, your past-due utility bill is a dischargeable debt in bankruptcy – just like credit cards, payday loans, and medical bills.  You may be able to wipe your account clear and start fresh with the utilities.If you’re facing a utility shut off, contact us to discuss how bankruptcy can offer you relief.  Don’t wait until after your services have already been terminated.

Can bankruptcy stop my utilities from being shut-off?

January 1 through April 15 of every year tends to be the busiest time of year for bankruptcy attorneys due to an alignment of financial events. First, we’re coming off of the holiday season and people are finding out just how bad a spot they’ve put themselves in with their credit cards from Christmas shopping. Second, this is the time of year when most of your recurring annual expenses come due, such as licenses, memberships, subscriptions, and most notably – income and property taxes.
Third, as we approach April 15, more and more consumers are realizing that they are on the chopping block to have their utility services shut-off. Wisconsin’s winter moratorium prevents utilities from being shut-off between November 1 through April 15. In recent years, the three major utility providers in this state – WE Energies, Wisconsin Power & Light, and Wisconsin Public Service – report rising numbers exceeding 100,000 customers who are at risk for losing their power after April 15. Many families struggling to make ends meet take advantage of the moratorium to divert funds to other necessary living expenses such as food and health care, but other customers merely free-load during the moratorium, and often find themselves unable to get caught back up before it ends.
Like wage garnishments, utility shut-offs can be prevented or service reinstated by filing a bankruptcy petition (see my previous post to learn some of the caveats to the automatic stay). However, the bankruptcy code permits utility companies to demand a security deposit, which is often equal to two or three months’ worth of peak service bills, to be paid within 20 days of filing for bankruptcy. Failure to pay that deposit can result in your power being shut-off anyway. The deposit is not applied to your past-due utility bills which are discharged in the bankruptcy, but are held as credit and generally refunded after you terminate your service or have established a record of paying your bills on-time after bankruptcy (usually about 12 months).