AER Statement of Expectations of energy businesses: Protecting customers and the energy market during COVID-19

Category: 
COVID-19 response
Statement of expectations
Release date: 
29 June 2021

Overview

The AER has developed a standby Statement of Expectations for energy retailers in the event jurisdictions are subject to extended stay-at-home orders.

The AER will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation across all National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) jurisdictions.

The standby Statement of Expectations is 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.

Key points

  • We recognise the uncertain nature of the pandemic means that the impact of COVID-19 on customers is unpredictable. As such, we have developed a standby Statement which we may apply in the event of further ‘stay-at-home’ orders. We will communicate when and where the standby Statement protections apply.
  • The standby Statement is three principles to protect energy customers during stay-at-home orders:
    1. Offer all residential and small business consumers who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement.
    2. 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.
    3. Defer referrals of residential and small business consumers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions or credit default listing.
  • Customers who can pay should continue to do so. This is vital for the viability of the sector so that it can continue to provide the support for customers who need it.
  • Customers should contact their retailer to find out what support is available.

Supporting consumers

The AER introduced the Statement of Expectations to provide extra protection and support to customers and the market through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our expectations reflected the widespread and unprecedented impacts of COVID-19 and the subsequent need for supports in addition to the ongoing legal protections.

On 30 June 2021, the Statement will come to an end, as it was designed to be a short-term measure. The AER will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation and will apply the standby Statement as required.

We are pleased with how energy businesses supported customers through the pandemic, and acknowledge the extra supports provided. We hope to see this continue going forward. Retailers must ensure customers 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 customers requiring payment assistance and must have regard to a customer’s capacity to pay where relevant.

Household and small business customers should still continue to get in touch with their retailer immediately if they find themselves in financial stress, so that they can receive the support needed to protect them from disconnection.