An Introduction to the Electricity Retail Supply Code (NT)

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The Electricity Retail Supply Code was introduced in 2011 with the objective of facilitating retail supply activities following the introduction of contestability and retail competition in the Northern Territory electricity market.  The objective of the Code is to strike an appropriate balance between promoting a level playing field and facilitating full retail competition, whilst protecting the integrity of the market and discouraging inappropriate market signals amongst participants and stakeholders. 

The Code includes provisions regarding transferring customers between retailers, credit support requirements and billing, metrology between retailers and network providers, retail of last resort arrangements, dispute resolution processes, and protecting the electricity customers who require life support equipment.

In this first of a series of posts, we look at obligations relating to customer transfers, life support and dispute resolution.

Customer Transfers

Customer transfers are dealt with in Section 8 of the Code.  A retailer must not initiate or effect the transfer of a customer without first obtaining verifiable consent.  Records of verifiable consent must be maintained for at least two years. 

Verifiable consent is defined to mean consent that is given by a customer expressly, in writing, after the retailer has in plain language appropriately disclosed all matters materially relevant to the giving of the consent including each specific purpose for which the consent will be used, and by a person whom a retailer (acting reasonably) considers competent to give consent on the customer’s behalf. 

Verifiable consent expires on the earlier of:

  1. The time that either historical consumption data is provided or the transfer of a customer occurs (i.e. the purpose has been fulfilled);
  2. The time specified in, or ascertainable from, the verifiable consent as the time of expiry of the verifiable consent; or
  3. The first anniversary of the date the verifiable consent was first given.

When examining the term verifiable consent against the term explicit informed consent (used in NECF jurisdictions), a number of important differences are clear.  These include the requirement that verifiable consent be in writing, that disclosure is intimately tied into the verifiable consent, and that verifiable consent has an expiry date. 

As with explicit informed consent, express consent is required and the individual providing consent must be competent to give such consent.  The consequence of consent expiring is that: a) firstly, a retailer must consider whether there is a time limit specified in or ascertainable from the verifiable consent, and b) secondly, the retailer must not seek to rely upon the verifiable consent more than one year after the date on which it was given.

A retailer may only request a network provider initiate the transfer of a customer to the retailer by submitting a customer transfer request form to the network provider.  The network provider may only reject a customer transfer request form by electronically notifying the retailer if there is no coordination agreement, information provided by the retailer is materially inconsistent with network provider’s records in respect of the customer, the meter type at the exit point is inconsistent with the meter type which may be required under the National Electricity (NT) Rules before the customer may transfer and the customer transfer request form does not request a new meter, or the nominated transfer date does not comply with clause 8.2.9 or 8.2.11 as relevant. 

A network provider must use best endeavours to resolve with the retailer any potential grounds for rejection prior to rejecting a customer transfer request form.  If a network provider rejects a customer request form, it must electronically notify the retailer within three business days after it receives the customer transfer request form setting out all of the reasons for the rejection.  A retailer may electronically notify a network provider that it withdraws a customer transfer request form submitted by it to the network provider at any time before the transfer occurs.

A transfer that is made without the verifiable consent of the customer that was transferred is an erroneous transfer.  Where there is an erroneous transfer, a retailer must submit a reversal via a customer transfer request form.  Where such a customer transfer request form is submitted, clause 8.2.11 will apply and clause 8.2.19 requires that the relevant retailers, the network provider and, if applicable, the system coordinator act in good faith to ensure that the rights and obligations of the affected customer are the same as they would have been if the erroneous transfer had not occurred.

Life Support

The obligation of participants in relation to life support is set out in clause 10 of the Code.  Life support equipment has a similar definition to that used in the National Energy Customer Framework and includes any equipment that a registered medical practitioner certifies is required for a person residing at the customer’s premises for life support. 

Where a retailer is advised by a customer that a person residing or intending to reside at the customer’s premises requires life support equipment, it must:

1.Register, within one business day of receiving that advice, that a person residing or intending to reside at the customer’s premises requires life-support equipment and the date from which the life support equipment is required;

2. Subject to clause 10.3A.2, no later than five business days after receipt of advice from the customer, provide in writing to the customer:

  • A medical confirmation form;
  • Information explaining that, if the customer fails to provide medical confirmation, the customer’s premises may be deregistered and, if so, the customer will cease to receive the protections provided to it under clause 10;
  • Advise that there may be planned or unplanned interruptions to the supply at the address and that the network provider is required to notify them of planned interruptions in accordance with clause 10.4B;
  • Information to assist the customer to prepare a plan of action in the case of an unplanned interruption;
  • An emergency telephone contact number for the network provide (the charge for which is no more than the cost of a local call); and
  • Advise that if the customer decides to change retailer at the premises and a person residing at the customer’s premises continues to require life support equipment, the customer should advise the new retailer of the requirements for life support equipment.

3. Subject to clause 10.3A2, notify the network provider, within one business day of receiving the advice, that a person residing or intending to reside at the customer’s premises requires life support equipment and the date from which the life support equipment is required.

On an ongoing basis, the retailer must not arrange for the disconnection of electricity to the premises from the date that the life support equipment will be required at the premises and the retailer must follow other obligations set out in clause 10.5. 

The obligations of retailers in the Northern Territory with respect to life support are substantially similar to those that apply in jurisdictions that have adopted the National Energy Customer Framework. 

It is worthy to note that the obligations kick in as soon as a retailer has been advised of the need for life support equipment.  There is no specified means by which a customer must advise a retailer and so retailers must ensure that they train all staff who receive correspondence from customers or who answer the phone to watch out for notifications and to ensure that they are acted upon appropriately.

Dispute Resolution

Clause 11 of the Code deals with dispute resolution processes and applies where there is a dispute between a network provider and a retailer, retailers, a network provider and the system controller, a retailer and the system controller, or a retailer and a generator.  Where such a dispute arises, representatives of the disputing parties must meet within five business days after a request by any of the disputing parties and attempt to resolve the dispute by negotiations in good faith.

If the dispute does not resolve within 10 business days after the meeting stipulated in clause 11.1.1, the dispute must be referred to the senior executive officer of each disputing party who must attempt to resolve the dispute by negotiations in good faith.

If the dispute is resolved by negotiations, each of the disputing parties must prepare a written record of the resolution and sign the record and must adhere to the resolution.

If the dispute is not resolved within 20 business days after the dispute is referred to the senior executive officers of the disputing parties under clause 11.1.2, any disputing party may, by notice to each other, refer the dispute to the Commission for dispute resolution. 

If a disputing party considers that the dispute is of an urgent nature, it may request the Commission to conduct the dispute resolution process before negotiations are concluded by either of the representatives or the senior executive officers of the disputing parties under clauses 11.1.1 or 11.1.2.  Subject to the rules of natural justice, the Commission will, within a reasonable timeframe, determine whether to conduct a dispute resolution process in response to any request.

The Commission can then go on to make a determination pursuant to clause 11.2.  Such a determination is final and binding on the disputing parties.  The reasonable costs incurred by the Commission in connection with the performance of the Commission’s functions under clause 11 are to be determined at the discretion of the Commission which may direct by whom and in what matter the whole or any part of the costs are to be paid.

This concludes the first of a series of post examining the regulatory framework applicable to electricity retailers and other participants in the Northern Territory.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss the applicable obligations of retailers or other participants in the Northern Territory, please get in touch.

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