For the past few months, I’ve been conducting the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. This is an update to the original Utility Fee Survey in 2012 and the 2015 Utility Fee Survey. The survey was designed to research what fees utilities charge, how much they charge for each fee, and to see what changes have taken place in the last two years.
This is the second of three consecutive Utility Information Pipelines reporting the results of the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. 118 utilities, representing 19 states, ranging in size from 88 to 75,000 active accounts participated in the survey.
The Utility Fee Survey has become a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Staffing Survey.
As was the case in each of the previous surveys, the results include too much information for a single issue. If you’re interested, here are the results from the 2012 and 2015 Utility Fee Surveys:
The last issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as water and sewer tap and impact fees. Today’s issue deals with delinquent fees and policies. The next issue will be the third and final survey results issue and will recap all remaining fees.
Of the 118 participating utilities, 115 charge a late fee. As shown by this graph, charging a late fee as a percentage of the bill is the most popular method (clicking on the any of the graphics will open a larger image in a new window):
Compared to the 2015 Utility Fee Survey, utilities charging a percentage is up 2.4% (60.1% vs. 57.7%), while those charging a flat amount is down 6.6% (26.1% vs. 32.7%).
Utilities that assess the late fee as a percentage charge from 1% to 20%, with 10% again being by far the most popular, as this graph depicts:
Late fees range from $5.00 to $50.00 for utilities that charge a flat amount. (The utility that charges $50.00 does so in lieu of charging a reconnect fee.) This graph illustrates the late fee flat amounts:
Ten of the utilities charge a hybrid late fee – a combination of a percentage with a minimum amount. Here is a graph showing what they charge:
While not technically dealing with fees, this year’s survey asked how, other than the utility bill, each utility notifies customers that a late fee or penalty has been applied. Here are the responses to that question (the total of all responses is greater than the number of participating utilities because some utilities use multiple methods of contact):
Three of the 118 utilities do not cut off for non-payment. All of the 115 that do cut off for non-payment charge a cut-off or reconnect fee as a flat amount. Two of the responding utilities charge an escalating cut-off fee whereby the more times a customer is on the cut-off list, the higher the fee becomes. In those cases, the amount shown in the graph is for first offenders. Additionally, four of the utilities charge a separate disconnect fee and reconnect fee. In those cases, the graph represents the combined total of both fees. Finally, three utilities charge a cut-off fee per service. In those cases, the graph assumes all services are being disconnected.
Cut-off or reconnect fees charged by the 115 utilities range from $15.00 to $150.00 as shown below:
Of the 115 utilities that cut off for non-payment, 85 of them (representing 73.9%) assess the cut-off fee as soon as the cut-off list leaves the office. This percentage of utilities charging the cut-off fee immediately is up 2% from the 2015 Utility Fee Survey.
Cut-off fee terminology
As more utilities adopt this best practice of charging the cut-off fee as soon as the cut-off list leaves the office, many are finding that terms such as “cut-off fee”, “disconnect fee” or “reconnect fee” are becoming outdated. For that reason, the survey asked what each utility calls its cut-off fee. The results are displayed in the following chart:
For the number of responses, including the 17 terms included in the “other” category, please click here.
As you can see, again this year, reconnect fee and cut-off fee are still the most popular terms, but many utilities have adopted terms that do not refer to cut-off or reconnection. Calling your cut-off fee “non-payment fee” or “service fee” or any of the other terms that do not imply cut-off or reconnection helps to avoid the inevitable arguments with customers who must pay the fee but have not been cut off.
As with late fees, the survey also asked how, other than the utility bill, customers are notified that they are about to be cut off for non-payment. The responses are shown below (again, the total of all responses is greater than the number of participating utilities because some utilities use multiple methods of contact):
This year’s survey also asked how utilities notify customers after they have been disconnected for non-payment. The responses are shown below (again, a few of the participating utilities employ multiple methods of contact):
After hours reconnect fees
Of the 115 utilities that cut off for non-payment, 49 of them (representing 42.6%) will reconnect after hours and charge a fee for this service. This is down from 51.5% of responding utilities in the 2015 Utility Fee Survey. 39 of the 49 utilities (or 79.6%) will reconnect anytime after regular office hours. The remaining 10 utilities will only reconnect during selected time periods as shown below:
After hours reconnect fee amounts range from $15.00 to $250.00 as shown by the following graph:
The final survey results issue showcases any remaining fees, including application, returned check, meter reread, meter tampering and convenience fees.
A special offer
I’m offering a special offer to the first five Utility Information Pipeline readers who respond. If you are one of the first five to respond, I will conduct a personalized fee consultation for one-third off the regular price. That’s $1,000 rather than the usual $1,500 price for this service!
I will review your utility’s current fee schedule and conduct an in-depth phone assessment to learn more about your fees. You will receive a presentation quality document illustrating how your fees compare with other utilities. Also included will be my recommendations for revising any existing fees and suggestions of new fees you should consider charging.
NRWA WaterPro Conference
Will you be attending the National Rural Water Association WaterPro Conference in Reno? If you will, or know someone who will be, please make plans to attend my presentation Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities at 4:00 pm on Monday, September 18.
© 2017 Gary Sanders