In the early days of the pandemic, Duke Energy took swift action to help customers, knowing the financial burdens that would result for many due to the health crisis. We suspended electric service disconnections for unpaid bills. We also hit the pause button on charges for late payments and returned checks.
We made these sweeping changes so our customers, from families to factories, could focus on what matters most and continue to help their neighbors and communities weather this unprecedented chapter in everyone's lives.
Thousands of families, businesses and others across South Carolina have directly benefited from our freeze on disconnections since it took effect more than six months ago. As we plan our return to standard billing and payment practices in October, we have expanded options for these customers and others so they can continue receiving safe and reliable service.
We encourage customers who are having a hard time paying their energy bills to get in touch with us as soon as possible, even if they're unable to pay anything right now. We're also proactively contacting some customers in an effort to better understand their needs.
Customers should also know we have flexible and manageable payment plans so they can avoid a service disruption once our standard billing practices resume in the month ahead. This ranges from giving customers a few extra days to pay their current bills to offering extended, interest-free arrangements for them to pay over many months. Disconnecting a customer's service is the very last step in a lengthy process, and it's a step we will work to avoid.
Some customers may also qualify for assistance from various government and nonprofit programs for utility bills and other household expenses. 211.org is a free service to help customers find local community agencies that can help meet a wide range of needs, including utility bills, housing, food and other essentials, child and elder care, medical expenses and health counseling.
If you are facing financial hardship, we are here to help. Our team is prepared to support customers through these challenging times and provide manageable solutions so customers can keep their lights on. Customers can learn more about available payment arrangements and assistance programs by visiting duke-energy.com/extratime.
Finally, we urge customers to watch out for scam calls with impostors posing as Duke Energy representatives attempting to steal your money and personal information. Scammers have added a new tactic, which promises to mail customers refund checks for overpayments on their accounts if they can confirm their personal data, including birthdays and, in some cases, Social Security numbers.
We are committed to doing what we can to help all customers avoid service disconnections while still providing a critical service during this ongoing crisis.
Mike Callahan is president of Duke Energy's utility operations in South Carolina.
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