In 2022, almost all household expenses increased for Americans, including utility bills. On average, consumers paid 14.3 percent more for electricity last year compared to 2021. By summer 2022, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), more than 20 million American households were behind on their energy bills. Now, in the grip of winter, spiking energy prices have driven household costs even higher.
People who are experiencing barriers to paying their energy bills often also face a host of other social, financial, and personal challenges. Many organizations are increasingly aware of the complex interplay of socio-economic and demographic circumstances that can influence or shape health and well-being. Known as drivers of health (DOH), these factors must be acknowledged and addressed to meet social needs and improve health outcomes in a person or a population.
For example, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 27 percent of American households experienced “energy insecurity,” or the inability to readily meet basic needs for electricity and heat in 2019. Often, people in such vulnerable circumstances are forced to make difficult, life-impacting decisions. Should they pay their energy bill this month or lower their heat to an unsafe temperature? Should they cut back on groceries or forego costly prescriptions?
If utility companies are to effectively address and reduce recurring unpaid utility bills, they need to take into account the socio-economic conditions that make customers energy-insecure and affect their ability to pay.
A data-driven approach can help proactively identify those customers and the challenges they face while connecting them to the resources that can alleviate their specific barriers and gaps.
Leveraging Data to Identify and Address Social Needs
Unite Us leverages data to understand social needs and help improve social or healthcare outcomes. Our Social Needs System (SNS) is the industry standard for identifying and measuring DOH needs. These insights inform effective strategies for engaging community-based organizations to meet social needs and close gaps with measurable impact.
Energy insecurity is often one of those factors. Over the past year, the Unite Us Platform has managed over 25,800 utilities cases for 18,700 clients. From 2014 to 2022, utilities needs have represented 6.78 percent of the total cases served, making them the fifth most common need. In 2022, utilities needs fell slightly to 5.76 percent of total cases, making them seventh highest on the list.
Clients with a utility need are also typically at higher risk of having other co-occurring needs. For example, in 2022, data from the Unite Us Platform shows that 32 percent of clients (over 20,000 in total) with a utility need also had a need for housing and shelter. Twenty-two percent of clients with a utility need (over 13,000) also had a co-occurring need for food assistance. Organizations that use Unite Us can identify and serve individuals with co-occurring needs to address their utility needs and improve their overall well-being.
Accessing the Power of Coordinated Care Networks
For utility companies to effectively reduce unpaid utility bills, it helps to enlist or activate the support of social service groups and community programs. These collaborative organizations already providing health and social care are usually well positioned to aid people who struggle with the web of challenges that make it hard to pay utility bills.
For example, AES Indiana and Citizens Energy Group have joined forces to help utility customers in difficulty access a variety of programs and resources, including a low-income home energy assistance program, a one-time assistance for income-qualified customers with an outstanding balance, flexible payment options and extensions, and free in-home energy assessments that can help decrease energy bills.
In New York and Massachusetts, National Grid helps support at-risk energy customers by directing them to a range of assistance programs, energy-saving strategies, and helpful tips for managing energy needs during the cold winter months.
Unite Us has deep experience with such organizations and programs across the country. Our national network across 44 states includes thousands of utilities organizations and programs that can offer support for home energy, internet access, and utility bill payment. When a utility company identifies a person who might require energy bill assistance, we can connect that individual to services that will meet their broader social needs and help them pay their utility bills.
Win-Win Energy Strategies with Enhanced Social Support
With persistent inflation and spikes in energy prices, 2023 promises to be a particularly challenging year for energy-insecure utility customers. To reduce unpaid bills, utilities must enhance their awareness of their at-risk customers’ socio-economic circumstances and help them access programs and support that can address their financial and social needs.
Unite Us’ Payments solutions helps utility companies monitor spending and outcomes for assistance programs. It allows companies to streamline reporting and gain detailed, real-time visibility into how their funding is driving outcomes across the community.
Follow these three steps to help customers access resources this year:
1. Connect with your local Unite Us team in any of 44 states across the country.
2. Leverage Unite Us’ comprehensive solutions to better understand the specific resources and assistance your customers need.
3. Tap into, launch, or expand bill payment assistance programs that can help customers with their utilities bills.
Learn more about how Unite Us can help your utility company proactively identify and address utility needs with a data-driven approach.
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.