The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has taken enforcement action over recent incidents in which customers known to require life support equipment have unexpectedly lost electricity supply.
Energex has paid penalties of $40,000 for two alleged breaches and TasNetworks $60,000 for three alleged breaches of the life support protections under the National Energy Retail Rules (Retail Rules). The AER alleged that the life support customers did not receive the required notice of at least four business days, in writing, of a planned interruption to electricity supply.
In addition to the penalties paid, both Energex and TasNetworks have offered administrative undertakings that commit to improving their procedures and processes relating to life support customers.
“Protecting customers requiring life support equipment is an ongoing priority for the AER,” AER Chair Paula Conboy said.
“It is imperative that these customers receive advanced notice of any planned interruption to their energy supply, so they can make alternative plans. This reduces any risk of harm occurring or more serious consequences for those customers,” said Ms Conboy.
“Businesses must have effective systems and processes in place to manage these important life support compliance obligations,” Ms Conboy added.
As part of the administrative undertakings, Energex and TasNetworks have committed to the following actions and to provide regular updates to the AER on the progress:
- Develop processes and system changes that will eliminate potential sources of errors.
- Develop additional and annual refresher training for staff.
- Develop additional quality assurance processes to ensure training and knowledge is maintained.
The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice and the offer of an administrative undertaking to the AER is not an admission of a contravention of the Retail Rules. The AER can issue an infringement notice where it has reason to believe a business has contravened a civil penalty provision of the Retail Rules.
The National Energy Retail Law and Retail Rules (which apply in New South Wales, the Australia Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania) set out key protections and obligations for energy customers requiring life support equipment and the retail and distribution businesses they buy their energy from.
The Retail Rules require that when a premise is registered as having life support equipment, customers are required to be given:
- general advice that there may be a planned or unplanned interruption to the supply,
- information to assist them prepare a plan of action in the case of an unplanned interruption,
- an emergency telephone number for the distributor at no more than the cost of a local call, and
- at least four business day’s written notice of any planned interruption.
To be eligible for these protections, customers must provide their energy retailer or distributor with confirmation from a registered medical practitioner that a person residing at the customer’s premises requires life support equipment.
Energex is an electricity distributor operating in south east Queensland with almost 1.4 million domestic and business customers, including over 12,000 premises registered as having life support equipment.
TasNetworks is an electricity distribution business that supplies customers in Tasmania.
About the AER
The Australian Energy Regulator regulates energy markets and networks under national legislation and rules in eastern and southern Australia, as well as networks in the Northern Territory. Its functions include:
- monitoring wholesale electricity and gas markets to ensure energy businesses comply with the legislation and rules, and taking enforcement action where necessary;
- setting the amount of revenue that network businesses can recover from customers for using networks (electricity poles and wires and gas pipelines) that transport energy;
- regulating retail energy markets in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania (electricity only), and the ACT;
- operating the Energy Made Easy website, which provides a retail price comparator and other information for energy consumers;
- publishing information on energy markets, including the annual State of the energy market report, to assist participants and the wider community.