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The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has set out new rules that aim to provide greater protections and assistance for energy customers affected by family violence.

The new rules are being worked on under the National Energy Retail Rules, because energy retailers can play a significant role in helping protect the survivors among their customers.

The rule change follows successful family violence reforms in Victoria, draft reforms in Western Australia, and family violence protections in other essential service sectors, including water, banking and telecommunications.

The final rule requires that when dealing with customers affected by family violence, retailers must:

  • Have regard firstly to the safety of an affected customer in any dealing they have with them
  • Not disclose confidential information about an affected customer to another person (and must require their contractors and agents not to disclose this information) without the customer’s consent
  • Provide a secure process to identify affected customers and minimise the need for them to repeatedly disclose their experiences
  • Not require documentary evidence in order to offer protection
  • Ensure staff can identify, assist and engage appropriately and effectively with customers affected by family violence
  • Adopt, publish and comply with a comprehensive family violence policy
  • Consider family violence as likely to cause payment difficulties and hardship, meaning affected customers may also qualify for other forms of assistance

AEMC Chair, Anna Collyer, said family violence perpetrators can exploit energy services to control survivors, undermine financial security, and inflict psychological and physical harm, with intimate partner violence contributing to more death, disability, homelessness and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor.

“Perpetrators can use the need for utilities like gas and electricity in many ways to control and harm people – including finding them in new locations,” Ms Collyer said.

“The final rule includes measures that protect customers’ physical safety by safeguarding their identities and locations, as well as helping with the financial challenges that frequently arise after leaving a violent household.

“It requires actions for retailers that will drive changes to their culture, like building their staff’s skills and making the safety of an affected customer paramount in their dealings.”

National coordinator of the Economic Abuse Reference Group, Carolyn Bond, said new measures that prevent a retailer from asking an affected customer to provide evidence of domestic abuse will go a long way. 

“It is so important to see in this rule change that victim-survivors of abuse no longer have to provide evidence before they receive assistance,” Ms Bond said.

“Many people choose not to go to court or report their abuse to the police in order to obtain documentary evidence.

“On the other hand, in situations where that evidence is available, it can contain personal details that can re-trigger trauma for the customer and be confronting for staff.”

The rule commences on 1 May 2023.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Chair, Clare Savage, said the AER strongly supports the rule change by the AEMC. 

“We advocated for an approach that would largely achieve consistency across the national energy market in how consumers with a lived experience of family violence are protected, to minimise the cost impact to energy businesses,” Ms Savage said.

Ms Savage said the AER will launch a Consumer Vulnerability Strategy in October which includes actions to prioritise a review of the exempt selling guideline, to consider if these protections should apply to embedded networks.

“We will work closely with consumer groups and energy businesses to assist retailers with implementing the final rule that commences on 1 May 2023,” she said.

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