ENERGY

Last updated on 3/8/2020

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Australian Energy Regulator Statement of Expectations


The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released a Statement of Expectations of energy businesses in April 2020. On 28th July 2020, they released an updated Statement. This extends important protections for energy customers during COVID-19. It encourages retailers and customers to stay in contact and for customers to reach out if they need help.

The Statement acknowledges that energy is an essential service. There is also an expectation that people who can pay their energy bills must continue to do so.

The current expectations of energy businesses are that they:

  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 the energy provider or responded to communications; or

    2. is accessing 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 the energy provider or responded to communications; or

    2. is accessing any retailer support.

  4. If a customer has not initiated 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 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. 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 to customers about these expectations

  10. Minimise the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works and provide as much notice as possible.

Resource:

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




Australian Capital Territory


  • Households already receiving the Utilities Concession will receive an additional $200 rebate on their electricity bill. This will be automatically applied to the next bill.
  • The government will also contribute up to $250,000 to a new fund to assist households severely impacted by COVID-19. Details on how the fund will operate are yet to be announced.
  • The Government will freeze the Utilities Network Facilities Tax (paid by utility providers), which is expected to lead to savings for customers.

Resource:

ACT Economic survival package.




New South Wales


  • No extra rebates or concessions have been announced for people financially impacted by COVID-19.
  • A range of rebates and support available already. Service NSW has a savings finder that explains what savings are available and the eligibility.




Queensland


Queenslander households will receive a $200 rebate to help offset the costs of electricity and water. The amount will be automatically credited to electricity bills from April 2020 (regional Queensland) and May 2020 (south-east Queensland). Eligibility is only for households who receive a separate electricity bill.

Resource:

Queensland Government: COVID-19 household utility relief




South Australia


No specific extra assistance has been announced.




Victoria


No specific extra assistance has been announced.




Western Australia


There have been announcements about a freezing of household bills and a relief package with regard to the costs of power and water.

Resource:

WA Government Stimulus




What do the changes mean?


  • The changes should mean that your client can make an affordable repayment arrangement and not be disconnected before 31 July 2020
  • Energy is still a high priority payment so it is important to put in place an affordable repayment arrangement




What do you do differently?


  • Do refer to the Australian Energy Regulator expectations (if required) in dealing with your client’s energy provider
  • Do check the website of your client’s energy provider to see if additional assistance is available
  • Do consider the the energy and water ombudsman in your State or Territory if a hardship arrangement cannot be agreed. However, if disconnection or supply restriction is not threatened then you may want to save the option of lodging a dispute for later. Do stress to your client the importance of keeping up affordable payments.





Disclaimer: The information on this website is for financial counsellors only. It is general information only. Financial counsellors must still tailor advice to their client’s individual circumstances. 

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FCA sincerely thanks Kat Lane. Liz Minter and Melinda Rene for their outstanding work in putting this site together.