Late last year, the Essential Services Commission of South Australia (Commission) released its Draft Decision on improving consumer protections for small-scale energy network customers. The decision applies in relation to small-scale energy networks regulated exclusively by the Commission. There are approximately 11,000 customers in these networks in remote and regional South Australia. The Commission’s final decision is likely to be made in the coming weeks.
The Draft Decision proposes several amendments to strengthen existing protections, increase consistency across the electricity and gas sectors, and better align certain protections with the National Energy Customer Framework.
The proposed changes aim to “protect the long-term interests of South Australian consumers with respect to the price, quality and reliability of essential services.” Key proposals include:
- Establishing a Small-scale Electricity Networks Code and renaming the existing Reticulated LPG Industry Code to the Small-scale Gas Networks Code. The Commission said this will “improve consistency and clarity of consumer protection obligations for small-scale electricity networks and ensure that any changes to these obligations are implemented quickly and efficiently for all licensees and customers.”
- Requiring small-scale energy retailers to provide customers with key contractual information, publish price lists, include payment methods on bills, and issue reminder notices for unpaid bills. The Commission said these steps will give customers “a more consistent set of core protections across the two fuel types” and “improve transparency for customers in relation to costs associated with their energy service.”
- Updating hardship and disconnection policies to better align with the National Energy Customer Framework. This includes requiring a “hardship policy,” waiving late fees for customers experiencing hardship, and preventing disconnection when a customer has applied for a rebate or concession. The Commission said these changes “aim to protect vulnerable customers.”
- Revising the Prepayment Meter System Code to remove the trial period and exit fees, require public reporting, clarify informed consent requirements, and allow payment splitting. The Commission said these amendments will make it “simpler for both the customer and the retailer” to switch between prepayment and post-payment, increase transparency, and enable customers using prepayment to “remain connected to their energy supply where they have an emergency or friendly credit debt.”
Energy companies operating in relevant small-scale networks should review the proposals and determine how they may need to update policies, procedures, and systems to comply with the expected final changes.