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Blumenthal, state watchdog urges utilities to comply with probe into COVID billing practices

Claudio Schwarz
Creative Commons

Eversource and Avangrid continue to deny accusations that they wrongly sued customers for unpaid bills at the height of the pandemic. This comes as a Connecticut watchdog agency urges both of the state’s two largest utility companies to fully cooperate with a state investigation.

The companies said in statements that they only pursued collections if cases were initiated before the pandemic.

Claire Coleman, who leads the state Office of Consumer Counsel, said this was an unfair financial burden for families already troubled by COVID-19.

“This is a holistic investigation looking at what took place in COVID-19, what should take place if, god-forbid we have future pandemic and looking at what makes sense in terms of wage garnishment and other collection activities as a whole,” Coleman said.

In March, the state obtained information that Eversource and Avangrid more than 300 court judgments and nearly 100 wage garnishments against customers for unpaid bills during the pandemic. The companies said any litigation against customers was started before the pandemic.

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is investigating the collection practices of both companies and will determine if such actions violated their orders.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wants Eversource and Avangrid to comply. He said it makes little difference to a family deprived of housing or income because of legal fees and penalties.

“The practical effect is the same whether the court action began before the pandemic or after if it was pursued during the incredible hardship and heartbreak and financial distress of the pandemic itself,” Blumenthal said.

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.
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