The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has today published its Quarter 1 2021–22 Retail Energy Market Performance update data, covering the period from July to September 2021. This data is provided by retailers in accordance with our Performance Reporting Guidelines and looks at key retail indicators including disconnections, debt, payments plans and hardship.
In this quarter, disconnections dropped by 27% from 5,381 residential electricity customers disconnected in Quarter 1 2021–22 compared to 7,327 in Quarter 4 2020–21. This decrease was caused by the AER’s standby Statement of Expectations taking effect in New South Wales (NSW), which instructed retailers not to disconnect customers who may be in financial stress due to the pandemic.
The number of residential energy customers in debt increased across 2020–21, but has since decreased by nearly 10% from 182,665 in Quarter 4 2020–21 to 165,221 in Quarter 1 2021–22. This recent decrease was driven predominantly by Queensland retailers who have returned to normal debt practices and a state government credit of $50 provided to Queensland customers via their retail bill.
However, average debt of residential customers increased by nearly 10% since Quarter 1 in the previous year and is now $1,079. Increases occurred across all AER regulated jurisdictions, with NSW residential customers having the greatest proportional increase.
Both the average electricity debt of residential customers who entered into hardship programs, and debt of customers on hardship programs also increased by nearly 10% from Quarter 1 of the previous year.
Since Quarter 3 2020–21 the number of residential electricity customers on payment plans has remained steady and is consistent with levels seen prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residential customer complaints to retailers fell by 21% from 31,270 in Quarter 1 2020–21 to 24,734 this quarter, which is low compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The AER will no longer be producing the retail market COVID-19 data dashboards, which assisted the AER and stakeholders with additional and more timely data to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on retail energy markets. The AER will continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic using our quarterly retail performance data.
The AER’s 2021–22 compliance and enforcement priorities include a focus on reducing customer debt, in particular ensuring retailers are identifying residential consumers in financial difficulty and offering them payment plans that have regard to their capacity to pay where relevant.
The AER also recently released its draft Consumer Vulnerability Strategy for consultation, which seeks to improve outcomes for consumers experiencing vulnerability and help them stay engaged with the energy market.