Sections 43(2)(c), 46, 47 and 50 of the National Energy Retail Law and rules 71, 72, 107(2), 111(2) and 116(1)(d) of the National Energy Retail Rules.
The Federal Court judgment is available from the Federal Court of Australia website.
On 29 June 2022, the Federal Court found that Origin Energy Electricity Ltd and other Origin related entities (together, Origin) contravened its obligations to protect customers experiencing hardship and payment difficulties under the National Energy Retail Law and the National Energy Retail Rules.
Origin admitted that its automated processes for dealing with customers experiencing hardship and payment difficulties resulted in it breaching its hardship obligations on more than 100,000 occasions by:
- unilaterally establishing new customer payment plans if the customer’s previous payment plan had been cancelled for non-payment, while failing to consider a customer’s capacity to pay,
- increasing a customer’s payment amounts following a review of the customer’s energy usage, while failing to consider the customer’s capacity to pay, and
- cancelling customer payment plans where it was unable to discuss with the customer a review of their payment plan, including in circumstances where customers were continuing to make their payments under the existing plans.
In relation to its dealings with 18 individual customers, Origin also admitted to breaching its hardship obligations, by:
- failing to maintain and implement its own hardship policies,
- failing to inform customers of the existence of its hardship policy,
- failing to offer and apply payment plans to customers in hardship having regard to their capacity to pay, and/or
- wrongfully arranging disconnection of customers in hardship.
The Court ordered by consent that Origin pay a penalty of $17 million in relation to the contraventions, contribute to the AER’s legal costs in the sum of $200,000 and implement a compliance and training program in relation to its hardship obligations.