Help with utilities for survivors of domestic violence

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Information about utility services for survivors of domestic violence.

What if my utility bills are in my former partner's name?

If you get a restraining order (a 209A protective order), the Court can order your former partner not to shut off your phone or other utilities. You must ask the judge to order this. Read more in 209A Restraining Orders.

You are not responsible for paying past bills that were not in your name. But you will probably have to start the service in your own name once your former partner moves out. Putting bills in your own name will make it easier to assert protections against having your utilities shut off. 

What if the gas and electric companies are threatening to cut me off?

You may be able to stop a shut off if:

  • you are low-income (below 60% of state median income – about $73,000 for a family of 3 in 2024),
  • you cannot pay your bills and:
    • you have a seriously ill person in your home. "Serious illness" can include any kind of physical or mental illness that a doctor certifies as serious, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or
    • you have a baby under 1 year old living in your house, or
    • all adults in the household are over 65 years of age, or
    • it is between November 15 and March 15 and you need the utility for heat.

See Stop Your Heat and Electricity from Getting Shut Off.

Can the telephone company cut off my services if I cannot afford to pay my bills?

You should be able to restore terminated local landline phone service, or keep it from being cut off, if you can’t pay your bill and one of the following applies to you:

  • you have a personal emergency, or
  • there is a seriously ill person living in your house.
What is the personal emergency protection for telephone service?

The personal emergency protection stops the company from shutting off your phone service for 30 days.

Domestic violence counts as a personal emergency. You may need to call police, doctors, friends, family, or social service agencies for safety reasons.

How do I get the personal emergency protection?

Write a letter to the phone company explaining the emergency, and then fax or mail it to the company.

  • Call your phone company and tell them you are sending the letter.
  • The worker on the phone may not know about the personal emergency rule. You may need to talk to a supervisor.
  • Say that there is an order issued by the Department of Telecommunications and Cable called DPU #18448. It says you have the right to keep your phone on for 30 days in the case of a personal emergency.

Read more of DPU #18488 in Appendix E of the National Consumer Law Center's publication Utilities Advocacy for Low Income Households in Massachusetts.


What is the serious illness telephone protection?

If you have a seriously ill person at home, you can keep your phone on without paying the bill for up to a maximum of 90 days if you also show that you cannot afford to pay the bills. You must submit a new doctor's letter every 30 days. You also must need phone service due to the illness. This will almost always be the case given the need to reach doctors and others.

What if the telephone company will not leave my phone on?

Call the Department of Telecommunications and Cable’s Consumer Division if the company will not leave your service on, or turn it back on. Their phone line is staffed by people who will help you deal with the telephone company.

Call 800 392-6066 (toll free, and the better number to get consumer help) or 617 305-3580. You can also fax the Consumer Division at (617) 988-8288 or email them at [email protected].  

You can also contact your local legal services office for help.

What if I do not have a sick person in the house, and my 30 day emergency period runs out before I can pay my bill? How can I call the police?

In most areas, you can keep 911 service even if you owe money on your phone bill. Your phone line will only work for calling 911. Ask the phone company if this is true for you.

There may be a free cell phone for emergency use. Call the SafeLink hotline for details about this program.

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Who to call for help with domestic violence
DV - Who to call for help

Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

See Jane Doe's list of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and court resources for safety and support.


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