How do you handle bankruptcies?

What happens when one of your customers files for bankruptcy? Do you have a procedure in place to be sure you comply with the law? This issue takes a look at some best practices for dealing with bankruptcy accounts.

Automatic stay

When a customer files for bankruptcy, you will receive a Notice of Bankruptcy from the bankruptcy court. The Notice of Bankruptcy invokes an automatic stay, meaning you may not take any measures to collect any outstanding amounts owed by the customer. In fact, the Notice of Bankruptcy will state “If you attempt to collect a debt or take other action in violation of the Bankruptcy Code, you may be penalized.” or words to that effect.

Close the account and open a new one

The best way to handle the automatic stay is to immediately close the existing account and open a new one. Be sure not to send a final bill, as this would violate the automatic stay.

Any debts (in your case, any new utility bills) incurred after the bankruptcy filing are not subject to the bankruptcy protections. This means the new account can be billed, charged a late fee, or cut-off for non-payment just like any other account.

Flag the closed account to not be penalized

You will want take the necessary steps to insure no late notices are mailed or penalties are charged to the account in bankruptcy. Depending on how your billing system works, you may need to move the account to a different billing cycle or set flags so the account isn’t subject to delinquent notices or late fees.

Change the mailing address

This is a tip I picked up from a customer, and it’s a great idea. Change the mailing address for all bankruptcy accounts to be your office mailing address. That way, if you miss another step in the process and a late notice is mailed, it won’t be delivered to the customer. Likewise, if you use an automated, outbound IVR system for calling delinquent customers, changing the phone number to your office number may be a good idea as well.

Need assistance?

If you have questions about how you handle bankruptcy accounts or any other aspect of your office operation, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at to learn how a business review could help your utility.

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© 2015 Gary Sanders

5 things to consider as you move forward

In a previous article, I wrote about factors to consider when deciding whether to use an outside contractor or your own staff to change meters in preparation for the transition to an automated meter reading system.

Should you decide to hire a contractor, here are some things to keep in mind before turning them loose to start changing meters.

Software interface

Does your billing software have the capability of creating an electronic file of meters to be changed and, in turn, importing those changed meters? Hopefully it can, because updating a mass meter change-out rather than manually entering each change-out is a huge time savings for your billing staff.

Moving meters to a new route

Will your AMR or AMI system use different software for reading the meters than you currently use? If so, these meters will most likely need to be exported in separate interface files. For many billing systems, this means moving the changed-out meters to a different route.

Coordination of the process

An earlier Utility Information Pipeline examined the timing of creating your meter reading file at the right time. The point of that issue was that you shouldn’t create all of your meter reading files at the same time. This is especially true if you are in the midst of a mass meter change-out program.

It is imperative the meter that was loaded in the handheld is the same one your meter reader will encounter when reading that route. Unless you have extremely good communication and coordination with your contractor, creating the reading file too early in the month greatly increases the chance your contractor will have changed the meter by the time that route is read. Creating the reading file the afternoon before or the morning of reading a route virtually eliminates the possibility of this happening.

Photograph of the old meter

Many contractors use tablets or smartphones in the field to log the meter change-out. While negotiating a contract with them, inquire if they can take a digital photograph of the old meter’s register before removing it. This can be most helpful in resolving any disputes with customers over what the correct final reading for the old meter was.

Capture latitude/longitude

Again, many contractors have the ability to capture the GPS coordinates – latitude and longitude – for each meter. If you don’t already have this information stored in your billing system, a mass meter change-out is a great way to capture it.

Questions about a mass meter change-out?

If you have questions about doing a mass meter change-out or other meter reading best practices, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at to learn how a business review could help be sure your utility is adhering to best practices.

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© 2015 Gary Sanders