On 11 July, the Essential Services Commission (ESC) published its energy compliance and enforcement priorities for 2022-23. The ESC continues to focus on protecting vulnerable customers in the following areas:
- wrongful disconnection of customers
- explicit informed consent (EIC)
- the payment difficulty framework
- best offer messages
- embedded networks’ fees and charges
- distributors’ guaranteed service level (GSL) compensation payments
- ongoing priorities for customers experiencing vulnerability
Wrongful disconnection of customers
Focus will be on ensuring processes, procedures and rules around disconnections are followed, ensuring disconnections to residential and small businesses are carried out appropriately and only as a last resort.
Explicit informed consent (EIC)
The ESC will be looking at the area of explicit informed consent to ensure it is correctly obtained (and relevant information provided) prior to entering into certain transactions. They further note:
“[W]e have zero tolerance for unethical or fraudulent conduct, and we closely monitor instances where third-party sales agents are involved, especially when we know of past inappropriate work practices.”
Payment difficulty framework
Customers that face difficulty paying bills have access to a range of assistance options. The ESC will be paying close attention to if and how retailers are passing on this information and putting it into practice, to minimise the likelihood of disconnection for non-payment.
Best offer messages
The ESC will target customer bills, and the requirement for retailers to display best offer messages. Further information on best offer obligations and requirements can be found on the ESC project page.
Embedded networks’ fees and charges
The fees and charges applied to embedded network customers is an area of concern for the ESC. Analysis will be undertaken to ensure fees and charges are compliant, including ensuring the maximum set by the Victorian Default Offer (VDO) is not exceeded. The ESC notes:
“[W]e will proactively monitor whether embedded network operators are circumventing the price cap by way of other fees and charges”
Distributors’ guaranteed service level (GSL) compensation payments
Distributors are required to guarantee a minimum service level, and when these are not met customers are entitled to a compensation payment (eg more than 18 hours unplanned sustained interruptions per year).
The ESC will monitor the compensation framework for GSL payments, including delays in making payments (and presumably, retailer responsibility in passing these on).
Ongoing priorities for customers experiencing vulnerability
The ESC noted two further categories warranting attention, with focus on protecting Victorians:
- affected by family violence; and
- reliant on life-support equipment.