FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Numerous companies are offering flexible payment plans to help customers navigate the financial fallout of COVID-19.
But one North Texas customer is urging consumers to double-check the details before enrolling.
M.D. Amassyali said he lost his payroll job due to the pandemic.
But when he saw his electricity provider, TXU Energy, offering assistance, he called the customer service number listed on his bill.
TXU Energy said Amassyali opted for a payment extension.
“That would’ve given me some time to figure things out. Spend some money on groceries instead,” Amassyali said.
He said he was shocked when the next month, he received another bill stating his account was past due. Customer service informed him he was facing a disconnect notice.
Amassyali said out of panic, he charged both balances to his credit card to avoid disconnection. He said he had believed that an extension would give him another month to pay.
But his confusion highlights the complexities embedded in certain payment assistance programs.
Contrary to the name, a “payment extension” does not extend a payment due date for TXU customers.
Rather, a TXU spokeswoman said a payment extension extends a customer’s disconnection date, which means late fees and notice fees can still be assessed.
“A payment extension with no money down will typically result in a late fee of 5% of that month’s charge,” said Jenny Lyon, a spokeswoman for TXU Energy.
While the company could not impose a late fee due to a statewide moratorium that lasted until mid-May, TXU did assess a $9 “disconnect fee,” even though Amassyali said his service was never disconnected.
At the start of the pandemic, TXU Energy announced it would provide customers assistance by waiving late fees and extending due dates.
But customers may still encounter caveats.
“Yes, you can still receive a disconnect notice even if you’ve arranged for a deferral,” read the company’s website. “This occurs when a payment extension is granted prior to the due date on your TXU Energy bill. We’ll still send you a disconnect notice as a reminder to pay.”
Amassyali said when he called to complain, TXU agreed to waive the $9 fee. He is encouraging others to do the same.
“I thought it was unbecoming for companies to do that to their customers,” he said.
TXU Energy is also encouraging customers to call if they wish to request a fee waiver.
“TXU Energy is committed to being flexible and responsive, and customers impacted by the pandemic should call us if they seek to have that fee waived,” wrote Lyon, a TXU spokeswoman, in a statement.
Customers who enroll in any payment assistance program should always read the fine print.
Ask for documents, such as emails or letters, that explicitly confirm the plan’s details and due dates.
TXU, like several other retail electric providers, is encouraging affected customers to sign up for the state’s COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, which is available until mid-July.
To qualify, a customer must have recently lost their job and can apply to Texas Lifeline (866-454-8387).
People who already receive SNAP or Medicaid benefits should be automatically enrolled in the Electricity Relief Program.