It is essential that all businesses in the energy industry understand their obligations to customers undergoing financial hardship. We talked about upcoming regulatory change around customer hardship policies here https://www.compliancequarter.com.au/are-you-paying-lip-service-to-your-customer-hardship-obligations/. An important aspect of the National Energy Retail Rules relating to customer hardship are the processes for customer payment using the ‘Centrepay’ system. In today’s article, we explain when a business needs to provide Centrepay as an option and the requirements for applying for approval to provide Centrepay.
By Dr Drew Donnelly, Regulatory Specialist, Compliance Quarter
Centrepay and associated obligations
Centrepay is a bill-paying service that is free to use for Centrelink customers. Through Centrelink, a customer can choose to authorise deduction of regular amounts from their welfare payments to pay bills to an authorised business.
It can make good financial sense for both customers and the business to be authorised for Centrepay payment; it can increase certainty with respect to bill payment. There are also some circumstances under which an energy retailer is required to provide the Centrepay option. Under rule 74 of the National Energy Retail Rules, if a hardship customer requests to use Centrepay, and that customer is on a standard retail contract, the business must provide that option. If the customer is on a market retail contract then the business must review that contract and make Centrepay available if, after a review, there is no alternative contract that would be more appropriate for that customer.
Centrepay – The Approval Process
In order to be approved by the Department of Human Services to use Centrepay, a business must carry out the following steps:
- Visit humanservices.gov.au/centrepaybusiness, download and read the Centrepay Policy and Terms;
- Download, read and complete the Centrepay Business Application;
- Send the completed Centrepay Business Application form and required attachments to the department by fax on 1300 727 760 or post to:
Department of Human Services, Reply Paid, CANBERRA ACT 2610.
Centrelink will assess the application and, if it approves, send out an approval letter. The application might only be approved with some additional conditions, which will be included in the letter.
The letter will set out
- service reason(s) (i.e. categories) under which the Business is approved for Centrepay;
- Business Centrelink Reference Number;
- the bank account to which Deduction payments will be made to the Business;
- access level for Centrelink Business Online Services;
- transaction fee payable;
- additional conditions (if any);
- details of the Centrepay Account Manager.
Before any particular customer can pay their bills using Centrepay, a Deduction Authority must be obtained from a Customer or their Representative. A Deduction Authority sets out the Customer’s instructions and consent for Deductions and can be provided in the following ways:
- Centrepay Deduction form SA325 – Centrepay the easy way to pay your bills;
- an internal form created by a Business and approved by the department of Human Services;
- a verbal request (as long as it can be documented) by the Customer to either a Business or the department; and
- an online request by the Customer via the Business’s or the department’s website.
For more about the application process go to https://www.humanservices.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/centrepay-procedural-guide-for-businesses.docx. Get in touch with us (click here) if you would like more information about whether your business should apply for Centrepay authorisation.