Alinta Energy has substantially improved its systems and is waiving more than $1 million in energy debt owed by more than 400 of its affected customers, following an investigation by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).
The AER was concerned that during the period September 2019 to March 2020, Alinta Energy may have required vulnerable customers to make upfront payments or seek financial counselling, in circumstances where it should have offered customers access to payment plans or assistance to join Alinta’s hardship program.
The AER alleges that in some cases Alinta wrongfully disconnected customers for non-payment of their energy bills.
AER Chair Clare Savage said the investigation, which was brought about by complaints to various state Energy Ombudsman offices, also indicated that Alinta may have failed to implement its own hardship policy during this period, including by automatically cancelling customers’ payment plans instead of contacting them to assist with the missed payment.
“We were very concerned about the alleged conduct, in particular Alinta’s lack of identification of customers in hardship,” Ms Savage said.
“Had it not been for Alinta’s willingness to acknowledge the AER’s concerns, improve its systems and processes, and offer substantial customer redress, we would have taken the matter further.”
“The waiving of more than $1 million in customer debt is a significant outcome for vulnerable consumers and will provide direct relief to affected customers,” she said.
Ms Savage said Alinta had advised it was now in the process of contacting affected customers to issue an apology and clear the debt from their accounts.
“All retailers must have the right systems in place to identify customers experiencing hardship or payment difficulties and offer them tailored assistance in accordance with their hardship policies and the national energy laws and rules.”
“I also urge anyone who is doing it tough to reach out to their retailer to discuss the assistance available,” she said. “And in the case of Alinta customers, if you were required to make an upfront payment or see a financial counsellor when you indicated you needed help, relief may be available.”