AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Energy has approximately 41,000 customers who receive utility discounts through the city’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP), at a cost of $10 million annually. Last year, the utility company conducted an assessment, after an Austin consumer advocate realized there was a discrepancy, and determined some customers who were receiving the discount didn’t necessarily need the discount-in some cases, the customer didn’t even know they were automatically enrolled in the discount program.

After reviewing recommendations from advocate Paul Robbins on how to fix the problem, Austin Energy’s interim general manager issued a memo with ideas the company can implement to reduce redundancy moving forward.

Who Gets Automatically Enrolled in CAP

*If any person living in a household qualifies for:

  • Medicaid Program
  • SNAP
  • CHIP
  • Telephone Lifeline Program
  • Travis Co. Comprehensive Energy Assistance Prorgram
  • Medical Access Program (MAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The first item AE addressed was customer’s with homes that have high improvement values. Currently, CAP participants are sent program opt-letters each month prior to the customer’s annual recertification through the Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD). The customer then has to respond within 30 days to remain enrolled. Moving forward, Austin Energy wants to do-away with the recertification month. If implemented, the automatic enrollment process would be changed to identify all participants with home improvement values above $250,000 and opt-out letters would be sent all at one. As of March 2016, Austin Energy has contacted 452 CAP customers, 35 have been removed from the program; 349 are pending removal; and 68 have requested to re-enroll.

The company is also working to eliminate customers who are receiving double and triple payments. The audit determined 363 customers who received more than one discount each month. Austin Energy says the problem has been identified as an error in the program design, which SOLIX (the program vendor) is currently working to fix.

Robbins also wanted the company to take a closer look at customers who had more than one property worth more than $50,000. Austin Energy suggests hiring a vendor to perform this task since SOLIX, TCAD and Austin Energy systems do not have the capability to link customers to multiple properties.

In regards to Robbins suggestions to verify a participant’s income along with an enrollment process whereby participants who are named as the utility bill account holder are automatically enrolled, the utility company suggests they “first fully implement the TCAD screening process; eliminate duplicate discounts” before determining the feasibility of those two items.

While most of Robbins recommendations were taken into consideration, Austin Energy says it does not support elimination of the discount for all consumption in the top two rate tiers. The memo states some customers “have high consumption due to poor housing conditions.”

The CAP program is funded through community benefit charges the rest of Austin Energy customers pay, a fee that’s based on consumption.