Retailer-initiated de-energisation of premises –small customers

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Currently, retailers are not disconnecting small customers as the world faces COVID. This is largely as a result of the AER publishing a statement of expectations. You can read more about the AER’s statement of expectations here.

Today we are looking at the rules applicable to retailer de-energisations of small customers (specifically in NECF under Retail Rules, Part 6, Divisions 1 and 2, Rules 107(2) and 116(1)). We focus below on disconnection for non-payment and note that additional or different obligations apply to disconnection for other reasons (such as the disconnection of a move-in or carry over customer or for the illegal use of energy).

Responsibility for compliance

Energy retailers are responsible for compliance with the National Energy Retail Rules and the National Energy Retail Law. The Retail Law requires a regulated entity to establish policies, systems and procedures to enable it to efficiently and effectively monitor its compliance with the requirements of the Law, the National Regulations and the Rules (s 273).

What are the rules?- Notification

Part six of the National Energy Retail Rules regulates the disconnection of small customers by energy retailers. A retailer must not disconnect a small customer except in accordance with Division 2. This is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of the National Energy Retail Rules and before completing a disconnection a retailer must review the current version of the National Energy Retail Rules and other applicable regulatory instruments.

If a small customer has not paid their bill on or before the due date, they must be sent a reminder notice pursuant to rule 109. The reminder notice must include those points listed in rule 109 (2). The customer, within the reminder notice, must be given the reminder notice period (which begins on the date of issue of the reminder notice, which must be no earlier than one business day after the pay-by-date, and which must end no earlier than 6 business days from the date of issue of the reminder notice).

Customers must then be given a disconnection warning notice to warn them that their premises will or may be disconnected. A disconnection warning notice must include the items listed in rule 110(2). The disconnection warning notice must allow a period of not fewer than six business days for the customer to rectify the matter before disconnection will or may occur and must inform the customer of the applicable re-energisation procedures and of any charges that will be imposed for reconnection.

Summary of the disconnection process

When is disconnected prohibited? (Set out in Rule 116 (2))

There are a variety of circumstances in which disconnection is prohibited. These include:

  • during an extreme weather event which is an event declared by a local instrument as an extreme weather event in the jurisdiction in which the customer’s premises are located;
  • during a protected period which includes a business day before 8 AM or after 3 PM, Friday or the day before a public holiday, or the days between 20 December and 31 December (both inclusive);
  • where a customer’s premises are registered as having life support equipment;
  • where the customer has made a complaint, directly related to the reason for the proposed disconnection, to the retail under the retailer standard complaints and dispute resolution procedures, and the complaint remains unresolved;
  • where the customer has contacted the retailer under section 41(2)(a) of the Law and the issue raised by the customer remains unresolved;
  • where the customer is a hardship customer or residential customer and is adhering to a payment plan under rule 33 or 72;
  • where the customer informs the retailer, or the retailer is otherwise aware, that the customer has formally applied for assistance to an organisation responsible for a rebate, concession or relief available under any government-funded energy charge rebate, concession or relief scheme and a decision on the application has not been made;
  • on the ground that the customer has failed to pay an amount on a bill that relates to goods and services other than for the sale of energy;
  • for non-payment of a bill where the amount outstanding is less than an
    amount approved by the AER and the customer has agreed with the retailer to repay that amount.

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