The Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) Statement of Expectations of energy businesses will end tomorrow while some key protections for consumers in Greater Sydney will remain.
The AER has developed a standby Statement of Expectations in the event jurisdictions are subject to extended stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. The standby Statement will apply from 1 July 2021 to the areas affected by the current New South Wales stay-at-home orders. The standby Statement principles will provide additional protections for residential and small business customers until two weeks after the stay-at-home order ends.
The standby Statement protects energy consumers from disconnection and debt collection and provides extra access to payment plans and hardship supports. The AER is ready to respond by providing the additional protections in other areas that may be impacted by the evolving health events and further stay-at-home orders.
AER Chair Clare Savage said the AER would continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation across all National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) jurisdictions.
“We know this is a difficult time for many energy consumers and we will be watching to make sure they are protected,” Ms Savage said.
“The Statement of Expectations that was introduced in March 2020 has helped protect thousands of households and small businesses from disconnection, referral to debt collectors, and credit default listing during the pandemic.
“Retailers have done the right thing during the pandemic by supporting consumers, and we acknowledge them for their work and efforts.
“The Statement of Expectations was designed to be a short term, temporary measure, and when we extended it in March this year, we indicated the Statement would likely end on 30 June 2021.
“Importantly, the AER has developed a standby Statement which enables us to apply additional protections to individual jurisdictions if there are stay-at-home orders or lockdowns, and this is precisely what we are doing now for consumers in Greater Sydney. We encourage those consumers to reach out to their retailer if they need help and help will be provided.”
The standby Statement of Expectations will be applied at the AER’s discretion to NECF jurisdictions - the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia or Tasmania.
Victorian energy consumers come under the separate protections of the Essential Services Commission, while Western Australia and the Northern Territory have their own separate retail energy market regulation.
The standby Statement has three principles, focusing on the consumer protections required in a lockdown:
- Offer all residential and small business consumers who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement.
- Do not disconnect any residential or small business consumers who may be in financial stress (including residential and small business consumers in an embedded network) without their agreement.
- Defer referrals of residential and small business consumers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions or credit default listing.
“Our compliance and enforcement priorities for 2021-22 include a focus on reducing customer debt. In particular, we will be monitoring retailers to ensure they are identifying residential consumers in financial difficulty and offering them payment plans that have regard to their capacity to pay where relevant,” Ms Savage said.
“Retailers are required to ensure consumers in financial difficulty are given the full suite of protections in the Retail Law and Retail Rules, including protections outlined in their hardship policies. Retailers must offer and apply payment plans to residential consumers requiring payment assistance and must have regard to a consumer’s capacity to pay where relevant.
“The AER is also developing a Consumer Vulnerability Strategy to ensure the system is working more broadly for consumers who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances like we have seen during the pandemic.”
Consumers can also shop around for a better energy deal through the AER’s Energy Made Easy website, which offers a free energy price comparison service for households and small businesses.
Find out more on the Statement of Expectations of energy businesses.