AER hits energy companies over alleged life support breaches

Electricity distribution businesses Energex and Evoenergy each paid $40,000 in penalties in December 2018 for alleged breaches of their obligations to life support customers in Queensland and the ACT under the National Energy Retail Rules (NERR).

The alleged breaches involved separate incidents where customers known to require life support equipment unexpectedly lost electricity supply during planned works.

“Protection of life support customers is a high priority as the consequences of an unexpected loss of supply for customers who rely on life support equipment can be dangerous or even fatal,” said Australian Energy Regulator (AER) chair Paula Conboy.

“We take alleged breaches of the life support provisions very seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”

The life support customers also did not receive the required four business days’ notice – in writing – of a planned interruption to their electricity supply.

“Life support customers must receive advance notice of any planned interruptions to their energy supply, allowing them to make alternate arrangements.

“Whenever we see evidence of distributors or retailers failing to comply with these important obligations, we will take appropriate action,” said Ms. Conboy.

Energex has committed to improving its systems and processes for managing its life support obligations, including implementing the recommendations of an independent audit required by the AER.

New rules strengthening the legal obligations on energy companies come into force on February 1 2019 giving people reliant on life support equipment in the home greater peace of mind.

The new rules compel both energy retailers and distributors to provide greater protections to life support customers from the time they inform the company of their need for the equipment, closing a gap in the NERR.

The new rules require the retailer or distributor contacted by the customer to:

  • clearly notify customers of their rights and obligations under the life support rules
  • follow an explicit process to obtain medical confirmation of a customer’s eligibility to be on the life support register and
  • follow an explicit process if the retailer or distributor chooses to deregister a customer where medical confirmation is not provided

About the AER

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) works to make all Australian energy consumers better off, now and in the future.

  • We regulate electricity networks and covered gas pipelines, in all jurisdictions except Western Australia. We set the amount of revenue that network businesses can recover from customers for using these networks.
  • We enforce the laws for the National Electricity Market and spot gas markets in southern and eastern Australia. We monitor and report on the conduct of energy businesses and the effectiveness of competition.
  • We protect the interests of household and small business consumers by enforcing the Retail Law. Our retail energy market functions cover New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and Queensland. We do not set the prices consumers pay.

We drive effective competition where it is feasible and provide effective regulation where it is not. We equip consumers to participate effectively, including through our Energy Made Easy website, and protect those who are unable to safeguard their own interests. We use our expertise to inform debate about Australia’s energy future.

Issued date: 
18 January 2019
AER reference: 
NR 01/19
AER Media enquiries 1300 138 917