State Attorney General offers tips to consumers facing high utility bills

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is offering tips to those who have been affected by increased electrical bills. According to media reports and data collected from customers, electric rates for National Grid have gone up, on average, 60-75 percent this winter and spring, compared to the same time last year.

The A.G. provided the following tips on how consumers can alleviate the pressure of dealing with increasing electricity rate hikes:

-Know your rights. New York's Home Energy Fair Practices Act entitles you to spread out unpaid bills in monthly installments for up to twelve months.

-If you are having difficulty paying your utility bill, call the number on your bill to request a deferred payment plan. Your power company is required to negotiate a deferred payment agreement with you based on your actual monthly income and expenses.

If you believe that National Grid is failing to provide you with a deferred payment plan, call the Public Service Commission's Consumer Services Division (800-342-3377).

-Your power company may not terminate your service for non-payment of arrears while you are working out a deferred payment agreement with the utility and the PSC.

-Once you enter into a deferred payment agreement, you must pay the installment plus the new monthly bill amounts to prevent termination of your service.

Seniors on a fixed income like Gloria Head, who spent her Wednesday afternoon playing bridge at the Onondaga Hill Senior Center, are feeling the chill in their wallets.

"I've noticed this last month there has definitely been an increase and I keep my heat down," says Head.

But Head didn't know National Grid can't turn off your heat if you're working to pay off your bills.

"No, I didn't until you told me just now," says Head.

National Grid is reminding its customers that it's not as simple as a phone call. National Grid spokesperson, Virginia Limmiatis, says you also have to be enrolled in one of their many programs.

"We have myriad programs available for customers and really it's based on budget issues, lifestyle, medical needs. It really runs the spectrum in terms of a customer profile and how we can meet them," says Limmiatis.

With your account number handy, a program can be selected simply by having a conversation with a National Grid customer representative.