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: 
27 March 2020

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the Australian community and our stakeholders.

On 28 July 2020, we released our updated Statement of Expectations of energy businesses. This extends important protections for energy customers, and encourages retailers and customers to stay in contact and for customers to reach out if they need help.

Key points

  • The Statement sets out important steps we expect energy businesses to action from 1 August 2020 to protect customers and the market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We recognise many retailers are providing additional assistance to customers, including reaching out to their customers and encouraging them to get that help. This needs to continue, particularly through the coming months.
  • Retailers must listen to their customers, who are best placed to know their own circumstances, and be flexible when developing payment plan arrangements. This includes listening to financial counsellors and other representatives that customers have chosen to act on their behalf, noting that customers are not required to engage financial counselling services in order to access retailer supports. 
  • We expect that those customers who can pay their bills will go on doing so. This is vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of energy businesses. 
  • Customers should contact their retailer as soon as they have concerns about paying their bills. No-one who has put their hand up for help should be disconnected. 

Our expectations

  1. Offer all residential and small business customers who indicate they may be in financial stress (including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper payment) a payment plan or hardship arrangement. This may include agreeing a period in which no payment will be made.
  2. Before 31 October 2020 (and potentially beyond), do not disconnect – other than at their request – any residential or small business customer who may be in financial stress (including a small business eligible for the JobKeeper Payment) who:
    1. has made contact with you or responded to communications from you; or
    2. is accessing any retailer support.
  3. Before 31 October 2020 (and potentially beyond), do not disconnect – other than at their request – any large business customer who may be in financial stress (including a business eligible for the JobKeeper Payment) who is on-selling energy to residential and small business customers and:
    1. has made contact with you or responded to communications from you; or
    2. is accessing any retailer support.
  4. In the event a customer has not made or responded to any contact and has been disconnected for non-payment, the retailer must process an order for reconnection immediately on contact from the customer, and waive disconnection, reconnection and contract break fees.
  5. Defer referrals of a retailer’s customers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 October 2020, and potentially beyond. 
  6. Be prepared to modify existing payment plans if a customer’s changed circumstances make this necessary.
  7. 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 October 2020. 
  8. Prioritise the safety of customers who require life support equipment and continue to meet responsibilities to new life support customers. 
  9. 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, particularly those about the availability of retailer and other supports such as payment plans, energy efficiency advice and fault repair. 
  10. 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.