Usually, if you have not paid your power bill after 48 days your provider can disconnect your power supply.

Before disconnection takes place, they should make a reasonable effort to contact you about the issue.

Power companies have to give at least seven to 14 days' notice before disconnection and then contact you again at least 24 hours before the actual disconnection.

The notice includes their contact details (so you can ask them for credit help), as well as information about their dispute resolution process and the cost of disconnection and reconnection.

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There is normally a hefty fee for being disconnected and reconnected, so it's best to try and avoid this if at all possible.

However, if you find you always struggle to pay your power bills you may qualify as a vulnerable consumer.

According to the Electricity Authority, a vulnerable consumer is:
•a domestic consumer of electricity whose health or well-being would be seriously threatened if their electricity supply was cut; and/or
•a domestic consumer who is finding it genuinely difficult to pay their electricity bills because of severe financial insecurity, whether temporary or permanent.

For example, you might qualify as a vulnerable consumer if you: are on a low income, are elderly, have health problems, have very young children, or are living with someone who is elderly or has health problems.

If you think you're a vulnerable consumer you need to let your electricity provider know as soon as possible.

They may ask for proof eg. from your general practitioner, budgeting agency, or Work and Income (if you are a beneficiary), and will probably contact you once per year to check whether your status is still the same.

If your power company has identified you as a vulnerable consumer they should follow certain procedures to help you – and only disconnect your power supply as a last resort.

Your power company should contact you to discuss your options which may include:
•discussing alternative pricing and payment plans;
•advising you of agencies which can help you with budgeting; and
•referring you to Work and Income (with your consent) to determine whether you are eligible for financial assistance.

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If you and your energy provider can't agree on whether you are a vulnerable customer, you can make a formal complaint to them in writing.

If this does not help resolve the issue you can escalate your complaint to Utilities Disputes, Freephone 0800 22 33 40.

For free and confidential advice and information on this or any other matter visit the Palmerston North Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Hancock Community House, 77 King St.

Opening hours, Monday-Friday from 9 am-4.30 pm, call 357 0647 or 0800 367 222. We have a free legal advice service by qualified lawyers most Thursday evenings at 7.30 pm, and a JP is available on Tuesdays from noon – 2.30pm.

No appointment is necessary for either of these services.