AER payment difficulty framework review

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The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is conducting a review of the consumer protections available under the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) for those experiencing payment difficulties. On 14 May 2024, the AER released an issues paper for consultation.

The review is driven by the commitment in Action 8 of the ‘Towards Energy Equity’ strategy in which the AER committed to considering whether improvements could be made to the NECF to ensure that consumers experiencing payment difficulties are identified early, engaged proactively, and provided with assistance tailored to their individual needs.

Currently, the NECF offers various protections for consumers facing payment difficulties through regulatory instruments such as the National Energy Retail Law (NERL), National Energy Retail Rules (NERR), National Energy Retail Regulations, and the AER Customer Hardship Policy Guideline. These protections are further supported by voluntary guidance, like the AER Sustainable Payment Plans Framework.

A clear payment difficulty framework should ensure a consistent experience for consumers, irrespective of their energy provider. This review will consider the effectiveness of existing NECF provisions and AER instruments that protect consumers experiencing payment difficulty and aims to develop a set of recommendations for strengthening protections for consumers experiencing payment difficulty.

The review will include an examination of:

• protections for consumers experiencing payment difficulty due to hardship, including those set out in the AER Customer Hardship Policy Guideline

• protections for other residential consumers experiencing payment difficulty

• voluntary guidance for retailers in the AER Sustainable Payment Plans Framework

• protections from disconnection (including the minimum disconnection amount and other protections in Part 6 of the NERL)

Customers of exempt sellers (including consumers in embedded networks operated by exempt sellers) are not covered by this review, as they are subject to different protections. The AER is conducting a separate review of the exemptions framework.

The consultation period ends – and submissions are due by – 28 June 2024. If you wish to lodge a submission, this can be done verbally or in writing.  Please see the AER website for further information.

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