AER releases new compliance guidelines to protect vulnerable consumers

The Australian Energy Regulator has revised guidelines that require energy retailers and distributors to report breaches of the National Energy Retail Law (the Retail Law). The Retail Law applies in South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and New South Wales.

Under the revised guidelines, businesses must report within two days any breaches of life support obligations or the wrongful disconnection of hardship customers.

 “The Retail Law plays a crucial role in protecting vulnerable energy consumers,” acting AER chairman Andrew Reeves said.

“Businesses need to be taking their obligations under the Retail Law seriously and establishing good systems to comply with the law. Mandatory reporting of breaches improves accountability and transparency and allows for timely consideration of problems by the AER.”

The Guidelines set up a transparent reporting environment and increase accountability. The AER also monitors compliance through market surveillance, targeted compliance reviews, and information from other regulators, ombudsman schemes and consumer groups.

The AER has a particular focus on compliance in the following areas:

  • obligations to customers with life support equipment;
  • issues affecting other disadvantaged and vulnerable customers, such as access to retailers’ hardship programs; and
  • issues that undermine consumer confidence in the retail energy market.

Issues that can undermine confidence in the market may include retailers not properly obtaining a customer’s consent when transferring a customer from another retailer, or when a customer enters into a market retail contract with a retailer.

The AER can respond to breaches of the Retail Law by either seeking a Court Enforceable Undertaking, issuing an Infringement Notice of up to $4, 000 for an individual or $20, 000 for a body corporate or beginning court action with a civil penalty of up to $20, 000 for an individual, or $100 000 for a body corporate for each breach.

Issued date: 
17 September 2014
AER reference: 
NR 17/14