Hardship protection is your right, use it if you need it: AER

Australians who are having difficulty paying their energy bills should get in touch with their retailer and seek the protection they are legally entitled to.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) wants all Australians to be aware that, from today, energy retailers are obliged to implement new customer hardship policies that provide clearer and better assistance to customers experiencing financial difficulty.  

“It can be tough to start a conversation about payment difficulties, and hard to know where to turn for help. If you expect to have trouble paying an upcoming bill, or your debt is mounting, call your retailer and ask them to help you. As long as you are in a hardship program and meeting its conditions, you cannot legally be disconnected.

“Retailers are obliged by law to assist vulnerable customers experiencing payment difficulties. Protection for people having trouble paying their energy bills is a right, not a privilege,” said Acting AER Chair Jim Cox.

The AER’s Customer Hardship Policy Guideline requires retailers to ensure hardship programs are easily accessible to customers, and that standard statements explaining how they will help customers are included in their policies.

The AER has completed a review of all retailer hardship policies to ensure they meet these new requirements. Retailers must now have fully implemented their policies and published them on their website. 

“It’s important that customers know these rights and take early action if they can. But we recognise this is not always possible when people are experiencing hardship and vulnerability,” said Mr Cox.

The Guideline also places an onus on retailers to better identify customers who may need help.

“The Guideline obliges retailers to work harder to quickly identify customers struggling with their bills, and to meaningfully engage with them to help them manage their bills on a continuing basis.”

The AER’s most recent report on the retail energy market shows that in 2017-18, over 82 000 energy customers were in hardship programs, and that only 22 per cent of electricity and 17 per cent of gas customers in these programs successfully completed them.

There were also 72 100 disconnections of residential electricity customers and 11 794 disconnections of residential gas customers in 2017-18. This was an increase of of 11 per cent on the previous year. The average debt for people entering a hardship program was $1 146 for electricity customers and $734 for gas customers.

Identifying customers who may be at risk of falling behind in their payments is a key element of the Guideline and one of the best mechanisms to help vulnerable customers better manage their bills and avoid disconnection.

For more information on the new hardship protections visit the AER website or contact your retailer.

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: 
2 October 2019
AER reference: 
NR 19/19
AER Media 0466 409 921 media@aer.gov.au