On 10 December 2018, the AER released an issues paper seeking feedback on the development of the Hardship Guideline. This paper is the first step in formally seeking stakeholder views on the Guideline. Responses to consultation questions in the issues paper will inform the development of the Guideline and our understanding of stakeholder views regarding the impact of any requirements we prescribe. Interested parties are invited to make written submissions on the issues paper by Monday 14 January 2019.
In addition to this issues paper, stakeholders have had an opportunity to provide initial feedback on draft standardised statements. We anticipate releasing a draft Guideline, including standardised statements, for consultation in February 2019. This will provide stakeholders with a further opportunity for input to the Guideline.
The National Energy Retail Law (Retail Law) requires that retailers have in place customer hardship policies, the purpose of which is to identify residential customers experiencing payment difficulties due to hardship, and to assist those customers to better manage their energy bills on an ongoing basis.
In November 2018, the AEMC made a final rule determination (link is external) in response to a rule change request submitted by the AER. The rule change request proposed amendments to broaden the current rule 75 of the National Energy Retail Rules (Retail Rules) to strengthen existing protections for customers in hardship.
The final rules require the AER to develop, maintain and publish a Hardship Guideline (in accordance with the retail consultation procedure) that contains:
- the processes, timeframes and requirements to be complied with by retailers in connection with the approval or variation of their hardship policies by the AER, and
- standardised statements of action for inclusion in hardship policies to give effect to the minimum requirements under the Retail Law and provide guidance for customers on their rights and obligations.