The Australian Energy Regulator has taken enforcement action over recent incidents in which customers known to require life support equipment have unexpectedly lost energy supply due to errors on the part of their distributor.
In recent months, both Aurora and ActewAGL have reported such incidents to the AER. The businesses are now working on programs reviewing and strengthening internal processes to meet their obligations to life support customers. Aurora has also paid penalties totalling $40,000 in relation to conduct the AER considers was in breach of those obligations.
The National Energy Retail Law and Rules, which commenced in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory on 1 July 2012, establish a framework for the protection of customers with medical life support equipment.
These customers are entitled to special protections to ensure continuity of energy supply, and to advance notice and information from their distributor where interruptions to supply are necessary or unavoidable. Energy retailers and distributors need to be able to identify their life support customers, and must ensure that steps are taken to keep them safe.
“Obligations to life support customers are critical, and a priority for the AER. These customers are dependent on their energy supply to power important medical equipment,” AER Chairman Andrew Reeves said.
Mr Reeves is encouraging customers who are reliant on life support equipment to engage with their retailers and distributors.
“If someone in your home is using medical life support equipment, make sure you let your energy suppliers know. Your energy retailer and distributor can tell you what assistance is available to you and help you to access it,” he said.
The AER will continue to monitor compliance with these obligations to ensure that these protections are delivered in the best way possible, and will look to businesses in jurisdictions that have yet to move to the national framework to make sure they are prepared to meet these obligations.
The National Energy Customer Framework, which incorporates the National Energy Retail Law and Rules, commenced in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory on 1 July 2012. Other jurisdictions are expected to adopt the new framework over the next two years.
The Retail Law and Rules set out key protections and obligations for energy customers and the retail and distribution businesses they buy their energy from. The AER monitors and enforces compliance with the Law and the Rules.
The Rules require particular protections for customers requiring any of the following life support equipment:
- an oxygen concentrator;
- an intermittent peritoneal dialysis machine;
- a kidney dialysis machine;
- a chronic positive airways pressure respirator;
- crigler najjar syndrome phototherapy equipment;
- a ventilator for life support;
- in relation to a particular customer - any other equipment that a registered medical practitioner certifies is required for a person residing at the customer’s premises for life support.
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 this equipment.
The protections, set out in Part 7 of the Rules, include strict controls on when life support customers can be de-energised, requirements that distributors provide notice of planned interruptions to energy supply, and of information to assist customers to prepare a plan of action in case of an unplanned interruption.
Aurora’s payment of penalties in this instance is not an admission of a contravention of the Rules.