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How to Communicate With Customers About the End of Shutoff Moratoriums

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Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to recede, more utilities will be ending their shutoff moratoriums. In some cases, it will be because states lift their moratorium mandates. For example, Illinois recently ended its moratorium on utility shutoffs. The end of moratoriums will leave some customers vulnerable, which is why utilities must communicate effectively to ensure those who still need help can get it.

Provide Advance Notice

As soon as you know you will end your shutoff moratorium, start a promotional campaign to let customers know. Spread the word on social media, with bill inserts, in ads, and using any other usual communication methods. It may be especially helpful to have someone speak with local news media so customers can see the utility represented by a friendly face.

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In this communication, include specifics of what the change will mean for customers who might still need help. For example, information in local media from Peoples Gas in Illinois includes the offer of additional assistance, including one-time bill credits of up to $500 through the Peoples Gas Bill Payment Assistance Program (BPAP). The utility has encouraged customers in need of assistance to contact them to work out flexible payment arrangements details to avoid disconnection. Peoples Gas is also sharing information about available assistance through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and other resources.

Offer Plenty of Warning

North Shore Gas in Illinois has communicated similar information to Peoples Gas. Information includes a notice that customers’ service will not be cut off without notification, that customers in this situation will receive a notice, after which they will have 10 days to contact the utility and work out a payment plan. Giving customers whose service is in danger of being cut off plenty of time to respond to a notice, as well as sending multiple notices, is helpful.

Give Customers Options

In summary, the two utilities mentioned above, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas — in addition to ComEd, another Illinois power utility — are offering the following options for customers unable to pay their utility bills:

  • More generous deferred payment options than previously offered, including plans of 0 to 10% down with payments spread across up to 18 months
  • More financial assistance for paying down debt, including one-time credits of up to $500
  • Service reconnections for customers who provide a reduced down-payment of 25% of their outstanding balances
  • Assistance from Illinois LIHEAP and Share the Warmth programs

Additionally, a section of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity website, Help Illinois Families, includes a streamlined process for accessing program applications.

This specific information makes it easier for customers to understand what their options are and makes them more likely to call for help if they need it.

Make It Easy to Reach You

In all communications, give customers multiple ways to reach you, including a phone number, email address, and URL with more information. Let them know of other options, such as texting or assistance through an app or MyAccount portal.

The reduction in COVID-19 cases doesn’t mean the end to hardship for all customers. Those whose service has been maintained due to a shutoff moratorium may still be struggling to pay their bills. In this transition period, don’t let those customers fall through the cracks. Communicate early, often, and clearly so customers still financially impacted by the pandemic know their options and know you are there to help.

What are your communication plans for the end of your shutoff moratorium? Please share in the comments.

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