Energy consumers experiencing financial and other hardships can now expect better assistance from their energy provider.
This is great news as National Seniors made a significant contribution to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) process in developing new guidelines for retailers to better support customers doing it tough.
Our submission to the AER was part of our rolling Energy Affordability Campaign to cut energy bills for older Australians.
The AER requires energy retailers to develop customer hardship programs that offer practical assistance to customers who find it difficult to pay their energy bills because of hardships.
In addition, the AER has increased protections for those experiencing hardship, with all programs needing to comply with the regulator’s updated Customer Hardship Policy Guideline.
Retailers are obliged to help these customers manage their bills.
In doing so, retailers must explain, as clearly as possible, the process for assessing the eligibility of a customer for its hardship program. To deliver on this the AER has developed an Easy English version of the guideline.
Hardship policies must state how the retailer communicates with customers with diverse communications and other needs, including customers with low English literacy, customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; customers without internet access; customers with disability, and customers in remote areas.
According to the AER Guideline ‘hardship’ includes factors such as death in the family, household illness, family violence, unemployment, and reduced income. Eligible hardship customers can be offered assistance with managing energy bills, having individual circumstances considered and customer rights explained. The customer can also have a support person communicate with the retailer, including a financial counsellor or someone who helps manage energy bills.
Retailers are also expected to be proactive in identifying struggling customers and in supporting them. This means they would recommend they join the hardship program if the customer has:
- a history of late payments
- broken payment plans
- requested payment extensions
- received a disconnection warning notice, and
- been disconnected for non-payment.
On being accepted into the program, the customer would be provided with information about the right energy plan for them, available government concessions and relief schemes, energy rebates and ideas about how to reduce energy use, and tailored payment schemes to suit the customer’s circumstances.
Do you want more action on cutting energy costs? Then sign up to our Energy Affordability Campaign.
Rising electricity and gas prices impact us all, but it’s often pensioners or those on fixed incomes who are hardest hit.
But you can make a difference by joining the campaign and having your voice heard.
Let’s work together to cut energy bills and improve conditions for all older Australians.