On 31 May 2022, the ESC published its findings of a review into how Victorian energy retailers are implementing the payment difficulty framework. The payment difficulty framework requires retailers to assist Victorians struggling to pay their energy bills. This includes helping consumers stay on top of bills by adjusting payment amounts and frequency, offering payment plans to manage missed bills or ongoing energy usage and providing advice on how to manage energy usage or apply for utility relief grants and concessions.
The review noted some positive findings. Since the framework came into effect in 2019, more customers have received tailored assistance compared to past retailer hardship programs. More customers are receiving more appropriate assistance, and there have been fewer disconnections for non-payment. But of those customers that were disconnected, over half had not received assistance. The review noted that more work needs to be done by retailers to engage with these customers to break this debt-disconnect cycle.
The review shows that retailers have been implementing the framework to meet its objectives, but customer outcomes vary significantly between and within retailers, often influenced by the level, frequency and quality of retailer-customer engagement. Commissioner Symons noted that in the last two years, two energy retailers have paid penalties of more than $1.5 million combined for alleged non-compliance with the energy payment difficulty framework. In recent times, the commission has increased its powers to investigate and enforce energy retailer compliance with the framework to protect consumers.
The purpose of the review was to explore how retailers were implementing the framework to meet its objectives. The review covered analysis of stakeholder feedback, retailer data, consumer insights research, and call recordings between retailers and customers receiving payment assistance.
The full report and findings are available here.
Below are the key findings (diagrams):
Positive and improved customer outcomes
Negative customer outcomes