INDIANAPOLIS — Like a lot of Hoosiers, last summer’s pandemic economic shutdown caught Heather Barney by surprise and sometimes left her scrambling to pay off wintertime electricity bills.
“It can get up there around six hundred dollars so I admittedly push the limit to where they might send a disconnect notice and we will always pay,” she said. “Always paid. Never cut off.”
Though Barney said she’s never defaulted or been disconnected, she was surprised this spring to receive a notice from AES Indiana that because of her past late payments, she needed to pony up a $300 deposit against her future bills.
“It just said that ‘We are taking a look at your account and based upon your account history the last six months, we will levy a bill based upon your yearly average based on the last twelve months of your average bill,’ and that looks like it would come to about $300.”
Barney said she’s scrimping together the $300 deposit to match her $150 monthly bill by the end of August but worries about her neighbors who don’t have the means to keep their lights on.
“There’s a lot of people hurting in the Indianapolis area and that $300 is gonna determine whether they put food on their table, getting their children ready for the new school year,” she said. “You’re gonna levy this right in the middle of a pandemic? I don’t want free energy. I want to pay my part.”
AES Indiana, which took over longtime service provider IPL this spring, actually stopped collecting deposit payments for several months in 2020.
“We suspended deposits and other various collections activities in March of 2020 due to the start of the pandemic,” said AES Public Affairs Director Kelly Young. “We have actually now resumed our normal collection processes and that’s probably why you’re getting those calls and questions and concerns.”
As recently as last month, AES Indiana customers received phone calls from someone claiming to be from IPL and demanding payment for non-existent utility deposits.
“On our website…there is information about payment and extended payment and also information about scams,” said Young. “We do offer two types of payment extension plans for our customers to help them get caught up on their electric bills. We offer a short-term and a long-term payment process plan.”
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission provides for the payment of utility deposits from customers with a history of overdue payments or disconnections.
“If a customer receives a disconnect notice in two consecutive months or three disconnect notices in a three-month period, AES INDIANA is required to collect a deposit,” said Young.
The Indiana Energy Assistance Program provides emergency funds for customers facing disconnection during the winter months, however, there is no similar provision for payment of deposits.
Advocates advise customers in distress to call the state’s 211 hotline for additional information about utility payment assistance.