The Australian Energy Regulator has handed infringement notices to Energex after the power company allegedly left customers on life support unexpectedly without power on three occasions.
Energex paid the penalties, totalling $60,000, for the alleged breaches of the life support protections under the National Energy Retail Rules, which require customers registered as requiring life support equipment to receive written notice of at least four business days of a planned interruption to electricity supply.
"Protecting customers requiring life support equipment is an absolute priority for the AER. Customers on life support equipment are particularly vulnerable as any unexpected loss of supply can have dangerous, even fatal, consequences."
"It is imperative that these customers receive advanced notice of any planned interruption to their energy supply, as it reduces the risk of harm and allows customers to make alternate arrangements. Whenever we see evidence of distributors failing to comply with these important obligations, we will take appropriate action," said AER chair Paula Conboy.
Energex currently has an administrative undertaking with the AER which it provided in May 2017. As part of this undertaking, Energex has committed to improving its systems and processes for managing its life support obligations.
The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Retail Rules.
The AER can issue an infringement notice where it has reason to believe a business has contravened a civil penalty provision of the Rules.
The National Energy Retail Law and Retail Rules (which apply in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania) set out key protections and obligations for energy customers requiring life support equipment and the retail and distribution businesses they buy their energy from.
The Retail Rules require that when a premises is registered as having life support equipment, customers are required to be given:
- general advice that there may be a planned or unplanned interruption to the supply,
- information to assist them prepare a plan of action in the case of an unplanned interruption,
- an emergency telephone number for the distributor at no more than the cost of a local call, and
- at least four business day’s written notice of any planned interruption.
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 life support equipment.
Energex is an electricity distributor operating in south east Queensland with almost 1.4 million domestic and business customers, including over 12,000 premises registered as having life support equipment.
Previously in June 2017, Energex paid $40,000 in penalties in relation to two alleged breaches of the life support obligations. In addition to the penalties, the AER also accepted an administrative undertaking from Energex to which it committed to the following actions:
- Develop processes and system changes that will eliminate potential sources of errors.
- Develop additional and annual refresher training for staff.
- Develop additional quality assurance processes to ensure training and knowledge is maintained.