This is the last of three consecutive Utility Information Pipeline issues reporting the results of the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, 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.
118 utilities, representing 19 states, ranging in size from 88 to 75,000 active accounts participated in the survey.
The first issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as water and sewer tap and impact fees. The last issue dealt with delinquent fees and policies. Today’s issue explores the remaining fees.
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:
Returned check fees
Of the 118 participating utilities, only one does not charge a returned check fee. For the other 117 utilities, returned check fees range from $10.00 to $50.00, as this graph illustrates (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window):
Interestingly, of the 117 utilities who charge a returned check fee, only 64 (or 54.7%) charge the maximum fee allowed by their state. 27 utilities (representing 23.1%) charge less than the maximum allowed and 26 (or 22.2%) charge more than the maximum allowed.
If you’re interested in seeing how your fee compares to the maximum allowed for your state, here is a table with all 50 states.
In one of the earliest Utility Information Pipeline issues, I wrote about application for service best practices. One of my recommendations was to charge a non-refundable application fee, in addition to any security deposit, to all new accounts. This year, 56 of the 118 utilities (representing 47.9%) responding to the survey charge such an application or administrative fee. This is down from 51.9% in 2015 and 52.3% in 2012. These application fees range from $5.00 to $150.00 as shown below:
This year, for the first time, the Utility Fee Survey asked how much utilities charge as a transfer fee for transferring service from one account to another. 52 of the 118 utilities (representing 44.1%) charge a transfer fee ranging from $5.00 to $100 as shown in this graph:
Meter reread fees
28 of the 118 utilities (or 23.7%) charge a meter reread fee if the customer requests their meter be reread. This is virtually unchanged from 2015, where 23.6% of responding utilities charged a meter reread fee. In many cases, this fee is waived if it turns out the customer was correct and the utility misread the meter. Of the utilities that charge a meter reread fee, the fee ranges from $5.00 to $45.00 as this graph shows:
Meter tampering fees
91 of the 118 utilities (or 77.1%) charge a meter tampering fee. This is up from 73.6% in 2015 and 60.2% in 2012. Eleven utilities charge the actual cost of repairs or cost plus an administrative fee. Three charge a fee that depends on the type of meter tampering or damage done to the meter. Four more utilities recover their costs through the judicial system. Ten utilities have an escalating fee that increases with each meter tampering offense. The remaining 63 utilities charge a flat fee ranging from $10.00 to $1000.00 as shown below:
Of the ten utilities that charge an escalating fee, here are the charges for the first, second and third offenses:
One of my earliest issues explained why I believe utilities should accept credit cards. Of the 118 utilities responding to the survey, 105 of them (or 89.0%) accept credit cards. This is an increase from 81.1% in 2015 and 62.5% in 2012, so credit card acceptance is quickly becoming a standard practice for most utilities. Of the 105 that do accept credit cards, 62 of these charge a convenience fee on at least one form of credit card payments as shown below:
This year, for the first time, the survey asked if the convenience fee is charged by the utility or by a third party. By a large margin, most convenience fees are assessed by a third party as shown here:
The convenience fees charged by these utilities are too diverse in how they are assessed to be graphed, so they are presented here in a table.
In addition to the fees that have been described in the three results issues, the survey asked what other fees utilities charge. Below I’ve listed a few of the more creative fees that were reported:
Meter test fee
A number of utilities charge a fee if the customer requests that their meter be tested. The survey didn’t specifically ask about meter test fees, however most do not charge the fee if it turns out the meter is, in fact, registering incorrectly.
Return trip fee
When turning a meter on, most utilities will not leave the water on if the meter indicates water is running inside the house and no one is home. This requires the utility to make a return trip when the customer is home to turn the meter on again. Several utilities charge a return trip fee to cover the time and expenses involved in returning to the customer’s home.
Same day connection fee
A number of utilities routinely provide next day service for activating new accounts. A few of these utilities charge an additional fee for providing same day service.
Field collection fee
Most utilities have adopted the best practice of not collecting money in the field on cut-off day. At least one utility still allows customers to pay the field technician to avoid being cut off and they charge an additional $25.00 to provide that service.
A special offer
I still have a couple slots left for the special offer I’m offering 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.
If you are interested in this special offer, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, the special discount offer is only available to the first five people who respond!
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