Stop your heat and electricity from getting shut off

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

If you are low income and cannot pay your heating bills, a winter moratorium prevents your gas and electric company from shutting off your service between November 15 and March 15.

You may also be protected from gas and electric shutoffs at other times of the year if you have infants, people age 65 or older, or a seriously ill person living in your home.

How do I make sure my utility company does not turn off my heat this winter?

It is illegal for your gas or electric company to turn off your services if you need them for heat between November 15 and March 15 and you cannot afford to pay your bills. This is called the Winter Moratorium.

You must:

If you think you will not be able to pay your winter heat bills:

  1. Contact your utility company. Your utility bill should have contact information. Tell them you are having a hard time paying for your heat.  
  2. Ask the company for their “financial hardship” form. If the company will not protect your account from termination until you can return the form, contact the Department of Public Utilities Consumer Division and ask for their help, 617 737-2836.
  3. When you get the form, fill it out. Write that gas or electricity is your heat source, or that you need electricity for your thermostat or furnace.
  4. Sign the form, make a copy of it, and send it to your utility company. Try to send the form back to the company as soon as you can. Send it by fax if you can.
  5. Once you sign and send in the form, the company cannot shut off your utility between November 15 and March 15. 


If you got fuel assistance last winter, it is against the law for your utility company to cut off your heat before January 1 of the next year for any reason. This is to give you enough time to apply for Fuel Assistance for this year. See Fuel Assistance and LIHEAP.

Who can I call for help?

If you are having trouble with your utility company, or if your heat gets cut off, call the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 737-2836 or toll-free (877) 886-5066. You can also call your local legal services.

Are there other protections against utility shut offs?

Yes. You have a legal right to keep your services on if:

  • you are low-income (below 60% of state median income),
  • 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, such as asthma, migraines, cancer, ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes; or
    • You have a baby under 1 year old living in your house. 

If everyone in your house is 65 or older, you should be able to keep the company from shutting off your services even if you are not low-income.

If any of these situations apply to you, the gas or electric company is not allowed to turn off your service. In most cases the company will have to turn your service back on if they have already shut it off.

How do I assert these protections?

If there is someone in the house who is seriously ill:

  • You will need to give the utility company a letter from a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner stating that the named patient has a serious illness. Include the name and address of that person, if it is not the customer, since serious illness protection applies if anyone in the household is sick.
  • Ask the company for a “financial hardship form.” Some companies have them online. Fill it out, and return to the company.  


A doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner can first call the company to report the serious illness. You then have 7 days to give the utility company a written serious illness letter from the medical provider.

If there is an infant under 1 year old in the household:

  • Send the company any reasonable proof of the infant’s age: birth certificate, record from a church or other religious organization, hospital record, etc.
  • Ask the company for a “financial hardship form.” Some companies have them online. Fill it out and return it to the company.

If all adults are over the age of 65:

How long can I keep my utility on without paying?

If you fit into one of these “protected situations,” you should be able to keep your electricity and gas on for as long as the relevant protection applies:

  • The winter moratorium ends every year at March 15 (sometimes extended to April 1). 
  • The infant protection ends when the infant turns 1.
  • Serious illness protection ends when there is no longer a serious illness in the household. If the illness continues, the letters must be renewed every 3 months, or every 6 months if the letter says that the illness is chronic.   


During the time your service is protected, the company will still send bills. You are legally obligated to pay those bills. While they can’t terminate your service when it’s protected, the utilities can report lack of payment to credit reporting agencies. Sometimes the company will sue the customer in court to seek payment, especially if the customer owns their home.

What if one of these protections applies, but they already shut my utility off and won’t turn it back on? Or they say they will not leave it on?

Contact the Department of Public Utilities' Consumer Division.

  • Phone: (617) 737-2836 or (877) 886-5066 (toll free). Their phone line is staffed by people who will help you deal with the utility company.
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Fax: (617) 305-3742
Can oil and propane companies refuse to deliver if I cannot pay for oil?

Yes. The legal protections against gas and electric shut-offs do not apply to oil and propane companies.

But the Fuel Assistance program can help pay your oil or propane bills, as well as your gas and electric bills.

My utility bills keep adding up. How do I get help?

If you have trouble paying your bills, see Lowering Bills Further and Get Help to Pay Your Bills.

For detailed information about your rights to electricity and gas, see Legal Tactics, Chapter 6: Utilities.

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