Monday, 30 March 2020 01:25

Energy retailers, networks must protect households, SMBs in hibernation during COVID-19 pandemic: Government Featured

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The Australian Government says it has set reasonable expectations of energy companies to protect householders and small business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will closely monitor retailer and network compliance with measures put in place by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

In its Statement of Expectations just released, the AER sets out a range of measures, including waiving any disconnection, re-connection and/or contract break fees for small businesses which have gone into hibernation - along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020.

Other measures announced by the AER include:

· Offering all households and small businesses who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement
· Not disconnecting customers who may be in financial stress, without their agreement before 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond
· Deferring referral of any customer to a debt collection agency for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond, and
· Minimising the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works, and providing as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses to manage during any outage.

In a joint statement issued on Friday the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said they will be closely monitoring retailer and network compliance with these measures.

“The electricity and gas sector, as an essential service, has an obligation to support customers through these difficult times,” Treasurer Frydenberg said.

“The Government is focussed on working to slow the spread of the virus, while putting in place actions to limit the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, jobs and businesses – and industry must play their role.”

Minister Taylor said it was imperative for energy companies to help customers who are experiencing difficulty.

“It is vitally important that we all pull together to help those who are being impacted by COVID19,” Minister Taylor said.

“While several energy companies have taken some steps to assist their customers in financial stress, during these difficult times we expect more action.

“We expect energy companies to look after their customers, keep them connected and waive additional fees and charges for those doing it tough.

“We expect them to do more to help small businesses who have gone into hibernation to avoid any energy costs, and we expect them to pass on the huge price drops we are seeing in the wholesale market.”

The Ministers said the Government believes it is important customers who can pay their bills continue to do so, while the energy companies do more to help those in need, beyond the business-as usual hardship arrangements.

“The Government welcomes the AER’s announcement that it is also amending its performance reporting framework to allow more timely access to data on payment plans, hardship, disconnections and credit collection.

“This enhanced reporting will allow the AER and the Government to quickly identify where energy customers are experiencing difficulty and to act accordingly.

“These are extremely challenging times. It is essential that the energy sector works with government to provide the support that the Australian people need,” Ministers Frydenberg and Taylor said.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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