Is your energy and water utilities approval and payment process falling apart during COVID-19?

Working closely with over 120 Local Governments, Azility has a good grasp on the challenges many Councils are facing during COVID-19 when managing their energy and water billing. Here are 3 issues Councils have been discussing with us; 

  1. Breach of contract fees. Large consuming sites (libraries, aquatic centres) that have been closed during COVID are at risk of not meeting their contracted minimum consumption thresholds, which could result in a large breach of contract fee from your utility. While you may be charged less for consumption, if you don’t meet your threshold the breach fee will negate any savings achieved on reduced consumption. 

The saying, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” could not be more important for risk management during this period. Vigilantly tracking your consumption for large sites to catch spikes and troughs will help you locate contract breaches quickly.  This gives you time to negotiate with your utility before your bill is due to be paidAzility has years of experience in taking these types of disputes directly to the retailerand we’ve had recent success in negotiating the waiving of large breach fines. 

 

Consumption spike 2 edited

2. Estimated Reads. We have noticed an increase in the number of estimated reads on utility accounts.  This is most likely due to access issues – either the facility is closed, or staff are not in place to assist in accessing metersWe have several clients who are now dealing with most of their bills being estimated, and many are disproportionately high estimates meaning the charges are way more than what they were billed during the same period last year.  

 Why does this matter? There’s no doubt estimated reads create unpredictability for finance departments, if you’re overcharged, you’ll spend big this financial year when you can least afford it. Vice versa, a small charge this year, which is what you’d like to see especially if you think consumption is down due to COVID-19 may result in a high fee next year, especially if consumption hasn’t dropped to the anticipated level 

 

Estimated Read Bill Verification

 

The best way to deal with estimated reads is to catch them early so you can start liaising with utilities to address the lack of access to the meter before it becomes an ongoing issue. When disproportionally high or low estimated reads are caught early you have time to start negotiating with your utility before the bill is due and the pressure mounts for payment. 

Azility notifies clients of every estimated bill within minutes of receiving the bill directly from the utility. We can also log GPS coordinates and a photo of every meter which can be sent to the utility to assist in accessing the meter.  

3. Ad hoc utility bill approvalMany of our clients who don’t use Azility’s Utility Control module have had to get creative to keep utility bill approval and payment continuing while staff work from home. Walking down the hall to get approval from relevant staff has moved to asset managers combing through large ZIP files to find the bills they are responsible for approving. While it’s great Councils are finding solutions, they are proving to be haphazard, time consuming and difficult to audit, while the risk of late payment fees and missing costly billing errors are on the rise due to a slowdown in processing the payment of your utility bills.   

The biggest improvement is to incorporate automated bill verification and approval into your utility payment process. Our technology is available to automatically check every bill within seconds of it being issued by your utility.  Azility’s Utility Control checks each bill for issues such as estimated reads and changes in consumption and presents a payment recommendation within a few minutes of your bill being issued.  

 This allows you to safely pay your invoices without wasting further time and resources on manual checks. Whether or not you approve bills centrally or delegate approval to line mangers, routine automated verification is extremely beneficial. Bill verification can track utility billing and usage issues right through to resolution.  

Azility’s experience is that effective energy and water management is successful when teams across Finance, Operations and Sustainability work in unison – on the same platform, with the same data and analysis tools. 

If you’d like to get your  Finance, Operations and Sustainability departments on the same page give Nick Hislop a call on 0468 646 900 or email Nick at nick.hislop@azility.co .  

In the first week of implementing Utility Control, Azility saved the City of Liverpool $400,000. Read more here

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