The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the Australian community and our stakeholders.
On 27 March 2020, we released our Statement of Expectations of energy businesses, which sets out ten principles we expect businesses to adhere to during this time, to the maximum extent possible. The principles are aimed at ensuring the continued safe and reliable supply of energy to homes and businesses.
The Statement aims to help people who are or will be affected by dramatic changes to their lives, businesses, income and working arrangements, and those of their friends, families and communities.
- Energy is an essential service. The energy market has an important role to play in protecting and supporting businesses and the community through the pandemic and our recovery. There are important steps we expect energy businesses to action from today to help with this.
- We expect that those customers who can pay their bills to go on doing so. This is vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of energy businesses. However, we also recognise that the circumstances arising from this pandemic, and the impacts on the economy, mean more customers may find it difficult, or impossible, to pay their bills at the moment. Customers should be encouraged to utilise online assistance on retailer websites or contact call centres as early as possible. Retailers must also be mindful of the different communication needs of their customers, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
- To ensure the continued safe and reliable supply of energy to homes and businesses, and to support both residential and small business customers experiencing financial stress, we expect retailers, distributors and exempt sellers to adhere to the following principles to the maximum extent possible.
- Some of the principles reflect particular responses required in the current COVID-19 pandemic, while others reinforce existing requirements under energy laws.
- We recognise that our expectations in this Statement may add to the risks and costs facing energy businesses. We are particularly concerned about the continued viability of energy businesses and we are proactively working with all stakeholders on options to appropriately balance these risks and costs across the sector and to ensure energy businesses get the assistance they may need in the coming months.
- Our compliance focus is ensuring customers receive the support they need and protections to which they are entitled. We will be closely monitoring compliance with provisions of the National Energy Retail Law, National Energy Retail Rules and exemption guidelines that protect customers facing payment difficulties.
10 new expectations of energy businesses
- Offer all residential and small business customers, including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment, who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement, regardless of whether the customer meets the ‘usual’ criteria for that assistance.
Do not disconnect any residential or small business customers who may be in financial stress (including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment), without their agreement, before 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond.
- Do not disconnect any large business customer, including businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment, without their agreement, before 31 July 2020, and potentially beyond, if that customer is on-selling energy to residential or small business customers (for example, in residential parks or retirement villages).
- Defer referrals of customers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 July 2020.
- Be prepared to modify existing payment plans if a customer’s changed circumstances make this necessary.
- Waive disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees for small businesses that have ceased operation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020.
- Prioritise the safety of customers who require life support equipment and continue to meet responsibilities to new life support customers.
- Prioritise clear, up-to-date communications with customers about the issues addressed in this Statement, including by keeping website, social media and call centre waiting and hold messages up to date, so customers can readily access updates when they need them and relieve some pressure on affected call centres.
- Prioritise clear communications with customers about the availability of retailer and other supports, including the availability of payment plans, energy efficiency advice and fault repair.
- Minimise the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works, and provide as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses to manage during any outage.
The Statement also covers:
- AER approach to compliance during this time
- our priorities, and
- how to stay up-to-date with AER developments.