The Division of the Public Advocate (DPA) is the State agency that represents consumers before the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC) whenever a PSC-regulated utility company (electric, natural gas, wastewater, water, or basic telephone service) in Delaware seeks a change in rates or a change in the delivery of services. The DPA also becomes involved at the federal level whenever any of these issues fall under the jurisdiction of the federal regulatory agencies. Although the DPA represents all consumers, its primary focus is on residential and small business customers.
A utility cannot increase its regulated rates or alter its conditions of service without approval from the PSC. To gain this approval, the utility will file an application with detailed financial information to support its claim. The DPA, often aided by expert consultants in the area of utility rate making, thoroughly investigates all aspects of the utility’s application to ensure that only those expenses necessary to provide safe and reliable service are recovered through the rates charged to customers. Staying mindful of costs, the DPA will join in certain settlements where the public interest is served. The DPA also becomes involved in cases where a utility proposes significant changes to its tariff (the guidelines under which service is offered to customers) to ensure that consumers are treated fairly and equitably.
Effective July 1, 2014, the DPA took over responsibility for investigationg and responding to customer complaints about regulated utilities. If the DPA determines that a utility provider has violated its tariff or acted in such a manner that additional consumer protections are warranted, the DPA may initiate a formal proceeding before the PSC. Since all customers of the utility must bear the costs of such proceedings, the DPA will attempt to exhaust all other measures before taking such action. It is important for customers to understand that the PSC does not have the legal authority to resolve billing disputes, make payment arrangements for customers, lower customers’ bills and unilaterally resolve any complaint. If the DPA determines that the PSC would not have jurisdiction over your complaint, we cannot take the matter to the PSC.
The DPA participates in PSC rule making dockets to make certain that any proposed rules either benefit or do not harm consumers. The DPA has also sponsored rule changes, including customer protections for termination for non-payment (electric and natural gas) and requirements that water utilities collect contributions in aid of construction from developers. The DPA is always available to respond to questions or concerns from customers regarding the regulatory process and our role, and we have staff who will attend any public meeting (civic association, service organization, home owners association, school groups, etc.) and speak on a variety of topics.
Your first step in resolving any complaint you have with your utility provider is to contact the company’s Customer Service Department. Your utility provider is in the best position to resolve your complaint because they have direct access to your account information. In cases where there is a bona fide dispute between you and your utility provider, your provider may not terminate your service while it investigates the disputed charges but, in order to avoid termination, you will need to keep the remainder of your bill current.
If you are not satisfied with the resolution offered by your utility provider, contact the DPA by phone, e-mail, or complete and submit our on-line complaint form. Once we receive your complaint, the DPA Staff will work as a liaison between you and the utility to try to resolve the situation informally. If DPA Staff determines that a utility provider has violated its tariff or acted in such a manner that additional consumer protections are warranted, the DPA may initiate a formal proceeding before the Public Service Commission (PSC). Because all customers of the utility must bear the costs of such proceedings, the DPA will attempt to exhaust all other measures before taking such action. It is important for customers to understand that the PSC does not have the legal authority to resolve billing disputes, make payment arrangements for customers, lower customers’ bills and unilaterally resolve any complaint. If the DPA determines that the PSC would not have jurisdiction over your complaint, it cannot take the matter to the PSC. However, as the customer of a regulated utility, you may file a formal complaint with the PSC without the assistance of the DPA. In that case, you would need to represent yourself or hire a lawyer to represent you before the PSC.
Services provided by long distance telephone carriers, cable/satellite dish companies, internet service providers and wireless phone companies are not regulated by the Delaware Public Service Commission as a result of legislation enacted at the federal level. For complaints or concerns about those services, you may contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs. The FCC’s toll-free number is 1-888-225-5322, or complete an on-line complaint form The FCC’s web site offers a number of consumer guides and related information about these service areas.
No, the DPA does not provide financial assistance. People who experience difficulty in meeting their basic needs of food, housing, utilities, medication and other necessities can get help and financial assistance by visiting any of the Delaware State Service Centers located in Sussex, Kent, and New Castle Counties or by calling the Delaware Helpline at 2-1-1.
Generally, the Hearing Examiner (HE) appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) will hold one or more Public Comment Sessions where customers and other individuals or groups may offer comments, voice concerns, or provide information that may be useful for the HE and the Commission in making a final decision in a case. The HE will first summarize the case, introduce the parties in the case that are present at the Public Comment Session, then open the floor to anyone who wishes to speak. Anyone who does speak should remain calm and speak clearly so that their words are accurately transcribed. It is important to know that a Public Comment Session is not a forum for questions to be asked and answered. That said, representatives from the DPA, the utility, and the PSC Staff are generally available after the Public Comment Sessions to address to questions or concerns. Customers may also file written comments with the PSC if unable to attend a Public Comment Session (refer to the Public Notice for detailed information). The transcripts from Public Comment Sessions, as well as all written comments submitted to the PSC, are thoroughly reviewed by the DPA and any concerns that are raised are taken into consideration when developing the DPA’s position in a case. Additionally, you may contact the DPA at any time to ask questions about the regulatory process and general questions about a pending case. Because the DPA is often a party to the proceedings, we are unable to discuss matters directly related to any position we may take in a case.
The PSC posts the dates, times and locations of all public comment sessions on its Calendar of Events and the DPA will also post notice on its Home Page.
Most utilities offer an explanation of their bill on their web sites (links are provided below), but if you have a question about anything on your bill you should contact your utility provider for a detailed explanation.
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