When Austin Energy moved to more quickly cut off electricity from families in arrears Austin Interfaith stepped in to negotiate a better deal for those trying to lower their debt.
The problem began with billing errors. In 2011 Austin Energy switched to a new, problematic billing system, resulting in billing errors for tens of thousands of families and collection problems for Austin Energy. Residential utility debt increased from $15.8 million in 2011 to $91 million by May 2015. With 27 thousand families in active repayment of uncollected bills, 8 thousand of which were already participating in the city’s low-income Customer Assistance Program and exempted from disconnection, Austin Energy targeted the remaining 19 thousand customers for inevitable cut-off.
Austin Interfaith leaders and allies negotiated that only those with over $1,000 in debt be subject to disconnect and that customers with smaller debt be contacted by specially trained Austin Energy representatives who will work with them to resolve the situation without disconnecting them from utilities.
Austin City Council OKs New Rules for utility Customers in the Red, Austin American Statesman [pdf]