Tuesday, April 01, 2008

National Grid Policy of Denying Utility Service to Minors Challenged

National Grid has an informal policy not to provide utility service to the premises of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen. There is no authority in law or in the utility's filed tariffs for withholding service on this basis.

In New York, minors of employable age are able to establish their own domicile. Contracts they make for necessaries, such as utility service, cannot be disavowed on the grounds that they lack capacity.

PULP is representing a seventeen year old who lives with her five month old child and the child's father, who is also seventeen. She has finished her high school education, he is employed full time, and they are self supporting. National Grid refused to provide utility service needed for the apartment they have rented, and provided no notice of the factual and legal basis for the denial. National Grid advised the denied applicant that she could get utility service if it were paid by welfare, and referred her to the local department of social services, which provided no assistance.

The Public Service Commission's Emergency Hotline designee upheld National Grid's denial of service.

PULP has filed an appeal of the Emergency Hotline determination, and requested a ruling of the Commission. PULP argues that National Grid's practices
  • Deny service to applicants who satisfy all statutory and tariff requirements for service;
  • Cause hardship to individuals of employable age who have not attained the age of majority and who require utility service at their premises;
  • Are contrary to the purposes of the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA);
  • Create additional qualifications, terms and conditions for utility service not contained in HEFPA, which are to assure continuous residential service to promote and preserve the public health, welfare and the public interest;
  • Create additional conditions and qualifications for service not contained in filed tariffs;
  • Base the decision to provide utility service upon determinations and actions of non utility third parties -- local Departments of Social Services -- in violation of National Grid’s common law duty to provide utility service to the public; and
  • Are unreasonable, discriminatory and prejudicial.
In the papers, PULP cites prior instances in which National Grid adopted restrictive rules that worked to deny service, which had not been publicly filed and approved by the PSC, but which had been greenlighted by agency staff. PULP requested the Public Service Commission to order an immediate reversal of the determination of the Commission’s Emergency Hotline designee, and to issue a ruling that National Grid’s policies to deny service to minors living independently are invalid.

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