Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Chair, Claire Savage has called for energy companies to cut small business owners and consumers a break, saying the AER expects energy providers to help customers out during COVID-19.
The AER has set up clear guidelines and expectations to ensure customers are protected during the coronavirus crisis. Savage says no customer should fear disconnection.
“Our message is simple, we expect retailers to offer residential or small business customers who may be in financial stress a payment plan – even if they can’t afford to pay anything right now,” Savage said.
“And any customer who is in contact with their retailer should not be disconnected. If you are struggling to pay your energy bill help is available. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Contact your retailer and agree a payment plan that you feel you can afford.”
With so many Australians now working from home, the nations energy debt has grown substantially during the pandemic. Recent data has shown the average energy debt held by households has increased by about 18 per cent between March 2020 and July 2020.
Savage said with households and businesses financially struggling, and winter bills on their way, your energy provider can provide a range of support to help manage your bills
The AER Statement of Expectations is asking retailers to help residential and small business customers by:
- providing information about concessions, rebates and other support
- offering a payment plan that’s based on their capacity to pay with a no payment window if required
- not disconnecting anyone who is in contact with them
- immediately reconnecting anyone who may be disconnected once they make contact and waiving any associated fees
- not referring them to debt collection agencies for recovery actions or credit default listing.
“This pandemic is unpredictable and the situation can turn quickly. Australians who have lost their jobs or income from their business should expect some protection when it comes to an essential service like power.
“It is important though that if you can pay your bill, you do pay your bill. A payment deferral is not a waiver and we don’t want to see customers taking on unnecessary energy debts.
“We understand for a whole range of reasons it can be more difficult for some customers to get in touch. Retailers should make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch and with pro-active strategies to engage with their customers.
“We recognise many networks and retailers are providing additional assistance to customers and are reaching out to their customers and encouraging them to get help. This needs to continue, particularly through the coming months,” Savage said.
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