The Australian Energy Council (AEC) has published a new best practice guide designed to assist energy retailers in improving customer support for those struggling to pay their bills.
The AEC developed the Practice for Energy Retailer Assistance guide in collaboration with energy companies and a broad range of consumer advocates.
“This project is a genuine and cooperative effort, which given the impact of the COVID pandemic comes at the right time,” AEC Chief Executive, Sarah McNamara, said.
The resources are intended to provide guidance for retailers on approaches that can improve the outcomes for customers experiencing difficulty. They are based on the practical experiences of the consumer sector and energy retailers.
“This project illustrates a new way of thinking for the AEC and highlights the commitment our members have to helping their customers recover from the COVID pandemic and to develop positive relationships with their retailer,” Ms McNamara said.
“This resource demonstrates an approach different to minimum standards regulations, in that it provides a goal to work towards that retailers are able to tailor to meet the needs of their customers, building on existing support frameworks.”
A new approach was agreed on through the process of this work. It involved collaborative discussions between retailers and community advocates, agreeing on the following:
- Recognising best practice principles for assistance in response to COVID, that will involve long term processes and culture changes that can and should be relevant beyond the pandemic
- Finding the best outcomes for consumers, the community and industry, which can be realised by continuing to collaborate and recognising the needs of customers
- Recognising this work is a first step that will require ongoing commitment from industry, community and support from governments
Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Chief Executive Officer, Jonathon Hunyor, said, “This is a welcome commitment by retailers to improve how they support the energy needs of the community.
“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us how important energy retailer practices can be in easing the burden on people who are struggling financially.”
Uniting Communities SA, Manager Advocacy and Communications, Mark Henley, said energy retailers need to work with their customers in responding to uncertainty, the Best Practice guide is a positive step in improved customer services for energy customers that will lead to higher levels of trust.
Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS), Chief Executive Officer, Aimee McVeigh, said, “This is a significant first step towards improving the level of support retailers should be offering to consumers.
“QCOSS will continue to work in partnership with the AEC and others to further progress the steps the industry can take to support consumers through energy hardship.”
Two documents have been released, the first provides a range of agreed principles to guide retailers in the developing assistance frameworks, designed with positive customer outcomes in mind, focusing on building trust, genuine engagement, debt mitigation and maintaining connection wherever possible.
The second document shows practical steps and examples for retailers to implement these principles.
This document is not a checklist, but a resource to assist retailers in better designing their own processes, based on expert guidance from consumer advocates.
The AEC has identified key areas where more work needs to be done and will continue to work with consumer groups and retailers to build on this resource, to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the community.