Enforcing Water Shut-off Policy

The revenue generated by monthly bills is directly invested back into keeping the water and wastewater system operating. When customers regularly fail to make their monthly payments, the sustainability of the water system is compromised. Therefore, in order to maximize the rate of bill pay, it is important that:

  • Bills are affordable to the majority of community members.
  • Billing is accurate, consistent and convenient.
  • There is a fair, clearly defined and consistently enforced consequence for not paying bills.

A fair, clear and consistent consequence for failure to pay monthly bills is important for two main reasons. First, the customers’ desire to avoid the consequence serves as a motivator for community members to stay current on their bills. Second, it is influential for overall customer satisfaction, as customers who pay may feel frustrated and taken advantage of if other customers who don’t pay continue to receive the same service for free.

Intensive efforts should be made to assist customers who fail to pay due to a genuine inability to afford the water service. For more information, view the Rate Setting, Making Water Affordable and Customer Assistance section.

One consequence many communities have found effective when a customer, who is capable of paying, fails to pay their bill is to shut off that customer’s water or wastewater service. Enforcing shut-offs can be challenging, as emotions surrounding this consequence, understandably, run high. In small communities, this task often falls on the water treatment plant operators, who find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of conducting shut-off service to friends and relatives. To implement a shut-off policy that is effective and as easy as possible to enforce, consider the following key steps:

  • Develop a clear ordinance that outlines the shut-off policy.
  • Clearly communicate with customers, explain the reasoning for and details of the shut-off policy.
  • Consider holding a community meeting and soliciting customer input in development of a fair shut-off policy to better increase customer support and buy-in.
  • Enforce the policy consistently. Define exceptions to the policy ahead of time.
  • Support the staff members tasked with physically shutting off a customer’s connection.
  • Ensure the actual mechanism for shut-off is easily accessible to staff members enforcing shut-offs, not located inside of customer homes, and protected from tampering.

Here is an example of a shut-off ordinance developed by another Tribal community: Oglala Sioux Tribe: Law and Order Code: SECTION 10. SHUT OFF FOR NON-PAYMENT OF RENTALS.