The Australian Energy Regulator has today released its draft Customer Hardship Policy Guideline and the accompanying Notice of Draft Instrument for consultation.
The new binding and enforceable Guideline will strengthen protections for customers experiencing hardship. The draft Guideline outlines important responsibilities that retailers will need to comply with when submitting a new or varied customer hardship policy from 2 April 2019.
The draft Notice provides background information about consultation outcomes to date, and the development and intentions of the draft Guideline.
Under the draft Guideline, the key retailer responsibilities and improvements will include:
- Identification, training and information – retailers’ customer hardship policies must include specific steps and requirements for identifying customers experiencing payment difficulties due to hardship, and actively assist those customers to manage their bills on an ongoing basis.
- Customer rights – retailers are responsible for ensuring their customer hardship policies provide clear, transparent and accessible information to customers about their rights and retailer responsibilities.
- Processes and timeframes – retailers’ hardship policies are required to meet AER’s expectations before they are approved or varied. This includes requiring retailers to submit sufficient supporting information, ensuring draft policies align with the retail law and that they meet new timeframes when seeking approval or variation of their policy, so that customers are protected.
- Standardised statements – there will be new ‘standard statements’ retailers must include in their customer hardship policy to inform customers about the retailers’ responsibilities, and how the retailer will comply with the law (section 44 of the National Energy Retail Law).
Consultation responses to the draft Guideline will help inform the final Guideline. Views are sought about whether the draft Guideline provisions will improve outcomes for customers experiencing hardship, and whether there are any serious impediments to retailers implementing the Guideline.
The final Guideline and Notice will be published by 1 April 2019.
Invitation for submissions
Interested parties are invited to make written submissions on the draft Guideline by Monday 4 March 2019.
If you interested in meeting with the team to make a verbal submission, please contact us using the email address below by 5pm Wednesday 13 February 2019.
As the Guideline must be in place by 1 April 2019, we will be unable to consider late submissions. Submissions should be sent electronically to AERConsumerandPolicy@aer.gov.au. Alternatively, written submissions can also be sent to:
General Manager, Consumers and Markets
Australian Energy Regulator
GPO Box 520
Melbourne VIC 3001