The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against AGL Retail Energy Limited and three other subsidiaries of AGL Energy Limited (together, AGL).
The proceedings relate to AGL’s alleged conduct in relation to Centrepay payments deducted from customers receiving Centrelink payments, including Jobseeker. Centrepay is a bill paying service administered by Services Australia by which people can elect to use the service to arrange regular deductions from their Centrelink payment for essential goods and services.
The affected customers had used Centrepay to help pay their energy bills but had stopped receiving services from AGL at the time of the alleged conduct.
The AER alleges that, between May 2020 to December 2021, AGL failed to notify the affected customers that they had been overcharged as a result of AGL making deductions through Centrepay payments and failed to use best endeavours to refund the overcharges within the required time periods.
It is alleged 575 customers were affected by this conduct, most if not all of whom are likely to have been vulnerable and experiencing financial disadvantage. The AER alleges that the conduct occurred on 5954 occasions after AGL became aware of the issue.
There are provisions in the Retail Rules to protect customers and to ensure that if overcharging by a retailer occurs, customers are notified and reimbursed within 10 days of the overcharge being identified by the retailer. This protection extends to customers who are no longer being supplied by that particular retailer.
The AER also alleges that AGL was in breach of the National Energy Retail Law by not having the policies and procedures in place to detect, notify customers of, and provide refunds for, the overcharges in the required timeframes.
AER Chair Ms Clare Savage said the AER considers that the matter goes to the heart of how energy retailers must have the right systems in place to remedy situations where a customer has been overcharged.
“We are very concerned about the alleged conduct by AGL, particularly given the vulnerable and financially disadvantaged customers involved and the period of time we allege it took AGL to notify affected customers and refund the overcharges,” Ms Savage said.
The AER is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations, an order requiring implementation of a compliance program and costs.
The National Energy Retail Rules impose legal obligations on energy retailers in respect of circumstances where a customer has been overcharged.
The National Energy Retail Law imposes legal obligations on regulated entities to establish arrangements to monitor compliance with the National Energy Retail Law and Rules.