Arkansas AG opposes Summit Utilities plan to restart late fees, disconnections

Attorney General Tim Griffin gestures to a projection of a Summit Utilities Arkansas bill during a news conference in Little Rock in this March 16, 2023 file photo. Griffin on Friday, April 21, 2023 asked the state Public Service Commission to prevent the utility from resuming charging late fees and disconnecting customers for nonpayment of natural gas bills. Summit had previously announced that the change would take place in July. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Attorney General Tim Griffin gestures to a projection of a Summit Utilities Arkansas bill during a news conference in Little Rock in this March 16, 2023 file photo. Griffin on Friday, April 21, 2023 asked the state Public Service Commission to prevent the utility from resuming charging late fees and disconnecting customers for nonpayment of natural gas bills. Summit had previously announced that the change would take place in July. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Attorney General Tim Griffin on Friday asked the state Public Service Commission to prevent Summit Utilities Arkansas Inc. from resuming normal bill collection and customer disconnection policies.

Summit announced Tuesday that it will resume charging late fees and disconnecting customers for nonpayment of natural gas bills beginning in July.

On March 16, Griffin referred the findings of an investigation into consumer complaints about Summit billing practices to the Public Service Commission. The office reported collecting more than 2,800 calls about sharp increases in monthly bills for natural gas as well as problems that customers said they were having communicating with the utility.

Griffin asked the Public Service Commission to investigate the company’s purchasing and billing practices, as well as potential violations of commission rules.

“Today, I am filing a motion with the Public Service Commission opposing Summit’s plan to resume the charging of late fees and disconnecting gas service until the investigations are complete or until an alternative date set by the Public Service Commission based upon information gathered during the investigations," Griffin said in a news release. "It is too soon to reinstitute late fees and shutoffs based upon what we know at this time."

The utility voluntarily stopped collecting late fees and disconnecting customers in November after being notified of billing discrepancies and complaints from customers that they were being overcharged.

Summit officials said the 60-day notice gives customers time to work out a repayment schedule if they are behind on their bills.

“We encourage customers to contact us as soon as possible if they are having difficulty paying their bills so we can work with them to find a solution,” Fred Kirkwood, chief customer officer, said in announcing the restart. “Our customer service representatives can help set up payment arrangements if customers need them or direct customers to payment assistance agencies in their area.”

Griffin said Tuesday that he was opposed to restarting late fees and disconnections in July while the commission investigation is ongoing.