The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) recently undertook an audit of the hardship policies energy retailers must have in place to assist customers experiencing financial difficulties and help them manage the costs of their energy services.
During 2018 the AER audited ActewAGL Retail, Aurora Energy, M2 and Origin for compliance with current customer hardship protection requirements. Where areas for improvement were identified in the audits the AER is working with businesses to make sure these are implemented. These improvements will help deliver better customer outcomes.
The AER recognises that energy affordability is a key issue for Australian households, in particular people experiencing hardship.
The AER is actively working to strengthen protections for customers in financial difficulty, including through new retailer requirements to be included in a new customer Hardship Guideline. The AER has already consulted on Guideline requirements that include transparent and specific action statements retailers must use, and other steps to protect customers experiencing financial hardship. The AER has been working closely with consumer groups, advocates and other experts to ensure that the Guideline will provide protections for consumers most in need. The Guideline will be in place by April this year.
Retailers and distributors are required to establish policies, systems and procedures to enable them to efficiently and effectively monitor compliance with the requirements of the National Energy Retail Law and Retail Rules.
In 2018, the AER’s Retail Compliance Audit Program included audits of hardship policies and obligations to hardship customers. Each audit also covered monitoring and reporting systems and associated policies and procedures, and included a summary of findings.
As part of this program, the AER also audited Queensland distributor Energex’s compliance with obligations to life support customers. The AER is working with Energex to implement recommended improvements and on its preparedness for additional life support protections that will come into effect in February.
The AER’s audit program was established under the AER’s Compliance and Procedure Guideline. The AER’s Audit Practice Guide provides information on the audit program.