Electricity and gas retailers are now required to have stronger and clearer hardship policies available on their websites, to comply with the new energy rules.
In November 2018 the AEMC announced new obligations on retailers so customers can get the help they need to pay their bills. This followed a rule change request from the Australian Energy Regulator which had identified deficiencies in how retailers implement their hardship policies.
The rule required the AER to develop a new customer hardship guideline that is binding on retailers.
The guideline, which was finalised in March, requires retailers to:
- Detail their process for early identification of vulnerable customers, so they can be included on hardship programs before their debts get out of control
- Use consistent, transparent and specific action statements in their hardship policies so customers know their rights
Retailers also have to set out how they will help customers pay their bills by:
- Ensuring customers are on the best energy plan that meets their needs
- Offering programs to help customers manage their energy use, such as audits
- Putting customers on a manageable payment plan
Under the guideline, retailers are responsible for making sure customer information about hardship programs is accessible. This includes an obligation for retailers to publish their hardship policy on their website.
The AER tracks compliance and has links to approved hardship policies via its website.
The changes are part of the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) which applies in the ACT, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. The changes will not apply in Victoria as it has its own Energy Retail Code.
The AER has also published new information to help consumers understand their rights, which can be found here.