The AER has published its third statement of expectations of energy businesses during Covid 19. This statement of expectations applies from 1 November 2020 and will continue until 31 March 2021, and potentially beyond.
In the new statement of expectations, the AER notes that the Covid 19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the Australian community with many people affected by dramatic changes to their lives, businesses, income, and working arrangements. The AER notes that Covid 19 continues to influence energy use and the ability of customers to pay their bills.
The AER suggests that retailers consider the methods of communication that they use when seeking to get in contact with a customer who is potentially experiencing financial difficulty. The AER recommends that retailers: listen to customers, who are best placed to know their own circumstances and capacity to pay; listen to financial counsellors and other representatives that customers have chosen to act on their behalf; recognise that a positive experience is more likely to encourage ongoing engagement; and take steps to proactively identify customers who may be in financial distress.
Offer of payment plan or hardship arrangement
The AER expects retailers to offer all residential and small business customers who indicate that they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement. Such payment plans or arrangements may include agreeing to a period in which no payment will be made i.e. a payment holiday.
The AER expects that retailers will work with customers who may be in financial distress to make payment plans and hardship arrangement sustainable by taking into account a customers capacity to pay and by ensuring that customers are on the tariff most likely to minimise their ongoing energy costs. The AER notes a customer should only be moved to a different plan with explicit informed consent.
Disconnection and reconnection
The AER expects that retailers will not disconnect a customer, other than at the customer’s request, before 31 March 2021 and potentially beyond where: the customer is a residential customer who may be in financial stress who is in contact with the retailer or is accessing any of the retailers support; or any small business customer who continues to adhere to a payment plan or other agreed payment arrangement.
The AER expects that retailers not disconnect, other than at their request, a body corporate or other large business customer who is either in contact with the retailer or accessing retailer support and who is on selling energy to residential and small business customers who may be in financial stress.
The AER expects that retailers process reconnection orders immediately for those customers who have been disconnected and have since made contact with the retailer. Further in such a circumstance, the retailer is expected to waive disconnection, reconnection, and contract break fees.
The AER expects that retailers not refer customers to debt collection agencies for recovery action or credit default listings until at least 31 March 2021 where the customer is a residential customer or former customer who may be in financial stress who is in contact with the retailer in relation to the debt or is accessing any retailer support or if the customer is a small business customer who continues to adhere to a payment plan or other agreed payment arrangement.
The AER expects retailers to modify existing payment plans if a customer’s circumstances have changed meaning that modification is necessary.
The AER expects that retailers and networks should waive disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees for small businesses that have ceased operation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 March 2021.
The AER expects energy businesses to prioritise the safety of customers who require life support equipment including to meet responsibilities to new life support customers.
The AER expects that retailers prioritise clear, up-to-date communications with customers about the issues addressed in this most recent statement of expectations including by updating their websites, social media sites, and call centre waiting on hold messages.
The AER expects energy businesses to minimise the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works, and to provide as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses to manage during any outage.
We recommend that all energy businesses read the AER’s statement of expectations in full here.
If you have any questions please get in touch.