Australians struggling with their power bills as a result of COVID-19 should contact their energy provider as soon as possible to get help.
Launching the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) Statement of Expectations 2, Chair Clare Savage is calling on energy retailers to extend their support to households and small businesses until at least the end of October.
“Our message is simple, we expect retailers to offer residential or small business customers who may be in financial stress a payment plan – even if they can’t afford to pay anything right now.
“And any customer who is in contact with their retailer should not be disconnected.
“If you are struggling to pay your energy bill help is available. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Contact your retailer and agree a payment plan that you feel you can afford.
“Preliminary data shows that the average energy debt held by households has increased by about 18 per cent between March 2020 and July 2020. With households and businesses financially struggling, and winter bills on their way, your energy provider can provide a range of support to help manage your bills,” Ms Savage said.
Through the AER Statement of Expectations we are asking retailers to help residential and small business customers by:
- providing information about concessions, rebates and other support
- offering a payment plan that’s based on their capacity to pay with a no payment window if required
- not disconnecting anyone who is in contact with them
- immediately reconnecting anyone who may be disconnected once they make contact and waiving any associated fees
- not referring them to debt collection agencies for recovery actions or credit default listing.
“This pandemic is unpredictable and the situation can turn quickly. Australians who have lost their jobs or income from their business should expect some protection when it comes to an essential service like power.
“It is important though that if you can pay your bill, you do pay your bill. A payment deferral is not a waiver and we don’t want to see customers taking on unnecessary energy debts.
“We understand for a whole range of reasons it can be more difficult for some customers to get in touch. Retailers should make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch and with pro-active strategies to engage with their customers.
“We recognise many networks and retailers are providing additional assistance to customers and are reaching out to their customers and encouraging them to get help. This needs to continue, particularly through the coming months,” Ms Savage said.
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 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.