With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the revenue of businesses both big and small, its vital that SMBs get the best deals on their essential services.
With many small business owners facing increasing shutdowns, reduced operating hours and a downturn in revenue during the COVID-19 crisis, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) recognises energy customers may be in need of relief.
The Federal Government has stepped up with recent announcements surrounding disconnection protections for commercial and residential customers, and the AER has further solidified this with the release of a statement of expectations that will guide how energy providers should support customers during the pandemic.
Put simply, the impact of COVID-19 has forced the energy market to readjust its rules of engagement. Even before the AER released its recommendations, some energy providers were already moving to deliver relief for customers. However, the regulator’s statement mandates a number of protections. This support includes a range of payment and deferral options alongside the abolition of a number of fees.
Leading business advocacy service, Business Australia (BA) has welcomed the news. Formerly the NSW Business Chamber, Business Australia has stood by business owners – untying legal knots, boosting efficiency, advocating for better conditions and helping them grow for almost 200 years. Through its Business Energy Advice Program (beap), BA has already helped thousands of businesses save on their energy bills. With the rapid changes in the market and the new expectations surrounding customer support, Business Australia suggests there is no better time to check your energy bills to see what saving opportunities can be made. It only takes a few minutes and every dollar counts to improve your bottom line.
Are you in hardship?
If you’re facing a hardship situation – and let’s face it many businesses are experiencing crisis due to COVID-19 – your first step is to check what your energy provider offers in terms of payment relief. The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has suggested the electricity and gas sector have an obligation to support customers through these difficult times.
“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,” he said in a statement to media.
Most energy providers have well-established hardship programs but the AER’s statement has ensured there is extra safeguards in place during COVID-19.
So, just what are the expectations for energy providers?
The AER expects energy providers to deliver immediate support to their customers by:
- 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
- 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
- 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
What about rebates?
Apart from the above measures, many energy providers have committed to providing rebates to their business and residential customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. While in some states such as Queensland, the government has committed to deliver small businesses an extra $500 and households an extra $200 payment towards power bills. Eligible businesses in Tasmania, won’t have to pay their first quarterly electricity and water bills issued on or after April 1. Electricity prices will also be capped and some fees and charges will be frozen.
Further to this, energy providers across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have announced a suite of measures to provide support to customers enduring hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The electricity and gas network relief package complements other initiatives across the gas and electricity sector and took effect from 1 April, 2020.
Is your energy provider giving you the best deal?
Most energy providers have signed up to the AER’s key principles to provide relief to customers facing hardship. However, Business Australia urges customers to investigate an immediate health check of their energy costs across both business and residential services to ensure they are getting the best price. Business Australia’s free energy comparison service makes this simple.
Just enter your details online, and in under 10 minutes on the phone, Business Australia will explain your options to get the best deal on your energy supply. If you decide to switch to another energy provider, all the paperwork will be taken care of.