Understanding Your Consumer Rights in Texas
When you enter into a contract with a REP for your energy, both you and your REP have certain rights and responsibilities to fill. What are they? Read on to learn more about the roles in a Texas electricity contract, as well as how you can file a complaint if you think your rights have been violated.
Rights and Responsibilities
Signing a Contract: An Agreement of Good Faith
When you sign any sort of contract, it is assumed that both parties are entering an agreement in which they will deal with each other fairly, honestly, and in good faith. When you sign a contract for your energy, you are agreeing to pay the rate that was laid out in your contract to your chosen REP. Similarly, your REP agrees to sell you electricity at the agreed up rate, and to provide billing and customer services.
Your Responsibilities as a Consumer
When you sign a contract for your energy, you have certain responsibilities, which include:
- To pay all amounts shown on your bill, including - but not limited to - all energy charges, base fees, meter fees, TDU charges, and any other fees and taxes
- To pay for exceptional services as outlined in your Terms of Service (which include fees for disconnection/reconnection, collection, late payment, payment failure due to insufficient funds
- To pay your bill on time, or else pay a late payment penalty
- To call your REP should you require a deferred payment arrangement
Your Retail Electric Provider's Responsibilities
Your retail electric provider also has certain responsibilities to fulfill when you sign a contract with them. These include:
- To provide service to you in a non-discriminatory manner (i.e. not to discriminate based on race, gender, creed, origins, etc)
- To provide you with energy at the price indicated in your electricity facts label
- To notify you in advance of any price changes that are not consistent with what was outlined in your EFL, and to notify you of any changes to your contract
- To provide you with written notice of any impending disconnection due to non-payment, and to continue providing your service as outlined in your contract once service is reconnected after payment
- To provide you with the emergency outage number of your local utility
- To send you a contract expiration notice at least 14 days before the termination of your contract
Your Consumer Rights
Along with your responsibilities to pay for the electricity that you use, you have certain rights as a consumer. If you think that your consumer rights have been violated, you may be able to file a complaint with the PUC. You can find out how to file a consumer compaint at the bottom of this article.
As an electricity consumer, you have the following rights:
- To receive information from your REP in Spanish (or any other language in which you were solicited), including the Terms of Service Agreement, Your Rights as a Consumer document, and any bills/bill notices, termination/disconnection notices, and information on any new electric services, products, discounts, promotions or customer assistance programs
- To receive service in a non-discriminatory manner (i.e. not to be discriminated against on the basis of your race, gender, creed, national origin, etc)
- To be informed of all applicable payment options and financial assistance programs by your REP if you call them to tell them that you will be unable to pay your bill
- To make a request to have your meter read up to four times per year at no additional cost to you (if after four meter readings the meter is deemed to be functioning normally, any additional meter readings may be at your cost
- In the event of a dispute with your REP, you have the right to request a supervisory review if you have already contacted your REP and they have already investigated the matter
- To apply for Critical Care Residential Customer or Chronic Condition Residential Customer designation, if you are eligible
- To privacy - your REP may not disclose or sell any confidential customer information. This includes information like your name, address, account number, type or classification of service, historical electricity usage, expected patterns of use, etc.
Right of Rescission If you are switching providers, you have the right to review and cancel your contract without penalty within three federal business days after receiving the terms of service. You will receive a written copy of the terms of service document that will explain all the terms of the agreement and how to exercise the right of rescission before your electric service is switched to the REP.
Your REP's Rights
Your REP's rights include some of the following:
- To bill you for all relevant charges associated with your energy use, as was laid out in your EFL
- To charge a security deposit if your credit history does not meet their requirements
- To disconnect service for non-payment, in accordance with PUC rules regarding disconnection
- To charge a one-time 5% late payment penalty for any payment received after a billing deadline
- To bill you for any relevant charges agreed to in your contract
Here you will find more information about common consumer issues
Refusal of Service
Your REP may not refuse service for any of the following reasons:
- Failure to pay for non-regulated services from your electric or telecom provider (such as internet service or insurance policies)
- The previous occupant of your home's failure to pay their utility bill (if they are not part of the current household)
- An incident of non-payment of a utility bill with another utility that occurred more than six months before the application date
- For non-payment of disputed charges until your REP or the PUC has determined the accuracy of the charges and you have been provided with notice of their decision
- Non-payment during an extreme weather emergency. Upon request, the REP must offer you a deferred payment plan during the emergency
- For non-payment prior to the disconnection notice, if you have already made known to your REP that you or another person in your residence has a critical medical condition and will have his/her health suffer if power is disconnected. In order to obtain a medical exemption from disconnection, you must enter into a deferred payment plan with your REP and have the doctor of the ill person contact the REP and submit a written statement that attests to the vital necessity of electric connection. This exemption will last for 63 days. You can reapply for another medical exemption after 63 days once the deferred payment plan has been fulfilled.
However, any one of the following are allowed by the PUC as a reason for your REP refuse service:
- Helping another customer to avoid paying his/her bill by applying for service at a location where that customer already receives service
- If you have not paid the bill of another customer for whom you've signed a written guarantee
- Refusing to pay a deposit if your credit is deemed unsatisfactory
- Hazardous or inadequate facilities or equipment, and/or failure to comply with a TDU's tariff regarding operation of nonstandard equipment
- Refusal to pay another utility for the same type of service that you have requested
Your power may be disconnected with or without notice depending on the situation.
Disconnection Without Notice
Your REP or TDU may disconnect your electricity service at any time without being obliged to provide notice for any one of the following reasons:
- There has been evidence of tampering with your meter, and/or evidence of theft of electricity service
- Service that has been disconnected due to non-payment has been reconnected without authority
- Service has been connected without authority by someone who has not made application for service
- There is a known dangerous situation. Service may be kept disconnected as long as the dangerous situation exists, and where reasonable the REP/TDU should provide written notice to you (the customer)
Disconnection With Notice
Your REP or TDU may disconnect your electricity service for any one of the following reasons, but your REP must have provided you with a written Disconnection Notice*:
- You haven't to paid a bill owed to or made a deferred payment arrangement with the REP by the date of disconnection
- You haven't complied with the terms of a deferred payment arrangement or other payment agreement that you have made with your REP
- You haven't paid a security deposit required by the REP
- Use of electricity service in a way that interferes with others' service
- Operation of nonstandard equipment
- The failure of a garantor to pay the amount guaranteed when the REP has a written agreement, signed by the guarantor, which allows for disconnection of the guarantor's service
The written disconnection notice must be mailed or hand-delivered to you no earlier than the first day after your bill's due date. The disconnection date must be 10 days from the date the notice is issued and may not fall on a holiday or weekend (or the day preceding) - unless the REP's personnel are available on those days to take payments/make payment arrangements and service can be reconnected.
The term "cramming" refers to unauthorized charges that appear on your bill without your consent. This practice is illegal in Texas. Before including any new charges on your bill, your REP must inform you of the new service or product, including all associated charges and how they will appear on your bill, and obtain your consent to these charges. They must do all of this before the charges appear on your bill.
If you believe that you have been "crammed", you should notify your REP immediately to request that these disputed charges be removed from your bill. Do not pay the disputed charges, but do make sure to pay the rest of the charges on your bill, so that you do not risk having your service disconnected. If you have already paid the disputed charges, ask for a refund.
Failure to pay disputed charges will not affect your credit rating unless these charges are found later to be valid. If you cannot come to a resolution with your REP, call the PUC at 1-888-782-8477.
Slamming is the practice of signing a customer to a REP without their consent. Like cramming, this is illegal in Texas. All REP must obtain your verifiable (written or audio-recorded) authorization before signing you up and switching electric service. Call the PUC at 1-888-782-8477 if you think that your power service has been switched without your authorization. You should also call the REP that slammed you and ask to be switched back to your previous provider.
The following habits should help prevent you from being slammed:
- Reading your bill carefully each month to verify that the REP name and energy rates are the same as what you agreed to in your contract
- Keeping track of when your contract is due to expire. An early termination fee on your bill from your chosen REP is a sign that you have been 'slammed'
- Checking your mail regularly - ERCOT will send notification every time your electric provider is switched
- Making sure that everyone in your household knows who is authorized to make any changes to electric service, and never signing anything without reading it thoroughly
Contact your chosen REP if you receive a call asking you to verify a change in service that you didn't authorize
Who to Contact When You Have a Complaint
Your first point of contact when you have a complaint is your REP. Whether it is a problem with your bill, service, or any other problem, you should first contact your REP to try to resolve the problem directly with them. If you are still unsatisfied with their response, you may file a complaint with the PUC, which you can do online. Once you have filed a compliant with the PUC, it is sent from the PUC to the REP. The REP has 21 days to investigate the complaint and to respond to the PUC. An investigator will then evaluate whether the company has failed to follow the law. The PUC will then send both you and your REP a letter with the investigator's conclusion.
You may submit a formal complaint to the PUC if you are unsatisfied with the results of the investigation. Keep in mind that the formal complaint process functions in a manner similar to a court case, and may result in a hearing (which will work similar to a trial). You will be called upon as a complainant, and required to respond to requests for information (i.e. to send copies of any documents you send to the PUC to all other parties in the case), as well as to appear at the hearing to be questioned. You may want to call upon an attorney should you decide to file a formal complaint. Also be aware that if your complaint is against your electric utility, you may be required to first submit the complaint to your city. You can find out more information about filing a formal complaint on the PUC website.