The New South Wales Minister for Energy and Environment Matthew Kean MP has extended, by way of regulation, the prohibition on remote disconnection and re-energisation until 1 October 2020. The prior prohibition was to expire on 1 September 2020.
the short nature of the extension is notable and is probably a result of the New South Wales government being distracted by the coronavirus and not being in a position to fully consider whether or not remote disconnection and re-energisation should continue to be prohibited.
We will continue to monitor this space and advise our clients accordingly.
The Essential Services Commission (Victoria) has published its final decision on ‘supporting energy customers throughout the coronavirus pandemic.’
The final decision includes an initial temporary package of reforms that will take effect from 1 October 2020 and will last for six months until 31 March 2021. The commission notes that it has the discretion to extend this timeframe if required and if in the long-term interests of Victorian consumers.
The commission has been monitoring the consequences of coronavirus on energy consumers and this has led to the decision that additional reform is required:
Based on the evidence available to us since the start of the pandemic, we consider there is a need for targeted reforms to support residential and small business customers paying their bills through the pandemic.
The package of reforms developed by the commission is in addition to commitments made by the Victorian government including a $3.7 million package of support targeted at Victorians struggling to pay their energy bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The government package includes the recruitment and training of new financial counsellors, training of over 1100 frontline community workers to give targeted advice on dealing with energy bills, a new energy brokerage program to help 3000 households at risk of payment difficulty to get the best value energy deal, and an education campaign to ensure that Victorians are aware of their rights under the existing Victorian payment difficulty framework.
Retailers will be required to support residential customers in completing URGS applications including by submitting forms online on behalf of customers where possible and with customers’ consent.
Retailers will be required to do a tariff check for all residential customers receiving tailored assistance, not just those who cannot afford the ongoing cost of energy.
The commission has developed a mandatory guideline that will set out assistance that must be offered by retailers to small businesses experiencing financial stress due to the coronavirus. This assistance will be in addition to the requirements existing in the Energy Retail Code that small businesses adhering to a payment plan must not be disconnected for non-payment.
The proposed guideline is set out in Annexure C to the final decision. For the purposes of the guideline a relevant business customer is a business customer, defined in clause 3 of the Energy Retail Code, who is experiencing financial stress attributable to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pursuant to the guideline, a retailer who is contacted by a business customer regarding, or in connection with, potential or actual difficulty paying for energy costs must provide that business with information about assistance that may be available under the guideline including how it may be accessed.
Retailers must also use best endeavours to contact the business customer who has not paid a bill by its pay by date within a reasonable time prior to any disconnection to provide the customer with information about assistance that may be available under the guideline and how it can be accessed
The assistance that must be provided to relevant business customers is set out in clause 4. This includes, but is not limited to, providing the option of making payments of an equal amount over a specific period, or at different intervals, payment plans that would result in any arrears of the relevant business customer being fully paid within a period determined by the retailer and clearly set out to the relevant business customer, extending the pay by date for a bill for at least one billing cycle in any 12 month period, and practical assistance to help lower energy costs.
Clause 5 prohibits retailers from commencing or continuing with proceedings for the recovery of arrears from relevant business customers. It’s interesting to consider whether this is consistent with the Corporations Act and the rights of recovery for retailers therein.
Clause 5 also prohibits a retailer selling or otherwise disposing of the debt of a relevant business customer who is in arrears at any time other business customers receiving assistance under the guideline or within 10 business days after the business customer has been disconnected.
We have been operating Compliance Quarter for over three years now and one of the key components of our service offering is the outsourced Compliance Manager role that we provide to several businesses operating in highly regulated industries.
Providing the outsourced Compliance Manager role gives us the ability to benchmark businesses when it comes to compliance. The outsourced Compliance Manager role also helps us understand when a business is likely to face compliance issues into the future.
When it comes to determining whether a business will or will not be compliant, there are some very basic metrics that determine success.
What is a compliance culture?
The most critical aspect of compliance is a compliant culture. What this means is that an organisation’s staff must value compliant and ethical conduct.
Compliance and ethics must be baked into decision-making. Compliance must be rewarded, and non-compliance addressed. When designing processes and reward structures, compliance must be paramount. A common example of where this is not the case is where a sales representative is rewarded purely based on sales completed rather than compliant sales.
To embed compliance in decision making, the Organisation should firstly have a complete understanding of their regulatory obligations and secondly should consider the impact of their decision-making when it comes to compliance with regulatory obligations.
Compliance, like many other areas of business, risks being tied up with buzzwords and some of the most spectacular examples of non-compliance have been by businesses that have been given a false sense of security either by internal or external advisors.
When it comes to compliance culture, the easy way to measure success is to review the decisions that have been made by senior management over time and to consider whether those decisions included compliance as a key feature or as an afterthought.
Businesses which rely heavily on external advice for approval, particularly after the fact, rather than for guidance before making decisions are typically those at most risk.
Training, documentation, and systems and processes
All businesses must ensure that they have a compliance management process in place that is robust, documented, regularly updated, and, most importantly, implemented. What this means in practice is that businesses should document their compliance policies and procedures and ensure that all staff have been trained on compliance.
Training is not a one-off exercise, this is been clearly demonstrated when it comes to various organisations response to the coronavirus. Staff must be given the tools and resources they require to implement an effective compliance program. In areas of key risk, this means investment by an organisation and this means continual training.
If you are considering whether or not your compliance management program was effective, ask yourself when your staff most recently completed training on compliance and whether you can say, hand on heart, that all of your staff have completed appropriate training for their roles.
Some of the warning signs that you need to do more work on this area include policies and procedures that have not been updated in more than six months and staff that have not completed training.
Compliance example by senior management
It is critical that your business conduct monthly compliance committee meetings where you consider the effectiveness of your compliance program and consider any improvements can be made.
Within your compliance committee meetings, you should be looking at any new or proposed regulatory obligations, looking at the measures of compliance, and developing a work programme for the month ahead. Compliance committee meetings should be documented and records of agendas and minutes kept.
What is a outsourced Compliance Manager role?
An outsourced compliance manager takes control of your compliance program and ensures that you have a robust compliance management system in place.
Depending upon the terms of the engagement, this individual may be responsible for regulatory updates, for reviewing the adequacy of the controls you have in place, and for training staff.
The benefits of an outsourced compliance manager include: a) their independence from the business, b) their industry expertise and ability to benchmark your business against others, and c) the value that they can provide at a lower cost to your business.
I went through Compliance Quarter to get a privacy statement for my website. The process was very easy and the template that I received was customised to my needs.
Eve Barylka, Business Owner
Their communication was responsive and always clear. I would rate their service and quality of work higher if more than 5 stars was possible!