Senior citizen gets gas shut-off notice despite regular payments

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Every weekday afternoon Bernice Apodaca's home is bursting at the seams thanks to her seven great-grandchildren.

"They come here after school until their mom gets off work," she explained.

With so many kids around, having a working stove and hot water is very important.  And just like any other household, Apodaca has bills to pay.

"My gas, lights, telephone and water bill goes out on the fourth of every month," she said.

Apodaca says she's always diligent about paying her bills on time.

"I know I’ve never missed a payment," she said. That's why she was stunned when she got a delinquent gas bill.

"I didn't know I had an issue until I got a turnoff notice because they were going to cut my gas off today," she explained.

According to Southwest Gas, Apodaca owes them $162.58.

Baffled, Apodaca showed 3 On Your Side her payment history.

"I don’t understand why it took so long for them to tell me I owed them money and why they said they sent another notice," she said. "I’ve never had a notice before."

Because she relies on her monthly Social Security check, Apodaca was allowed to pay a low-income residential rate, a monthly bill that sometimes varies.

"As a matter of fact I got a couple of months here, a couple of years here that I didn't have to pay because they said I didn't use that much gas," Apodaca said.

Apodaca said Southwest Gas couldn't give her a clear answer as to why her payment spiked so 3 On Your Side got involved. 

Southwest Gas reviewed her account for us and discovered Apodaca’s $33 monthly "equalizer" payment wasn't quite enough for the gas she was using.  Not only that, they also said one of Bernice’s payments never arrived and was never posted, which also contributed to her high and delinquent balance.

Regardless, the company agreed not to shut off Apodaca’s gas. Willing to work with her, the Southwest Gas adjusted her equalizer plan slightly to help her gradually catch up.

Apodaca said she's glad because money is tight.

"I just live on Social Security," she said.

Not only will the monthly adjustment, an increase of about $10, allow her to catch up, it should also prevent something like this from happening again.