AER (Australian Energy Regulator), the wholesale electricity and gas market regulator of Australia, has reportedly released Statement of Expectations 3, a new regulation that effectively extends the protections for energy customers facing financial stress owing to the coronavirus pandemic, till the end of March 2021.
The agency took this decision as data demonstrates increasing energy debt in small businesses and households through the past six months, but with lesser number of consumers accessing formal hardship programs and payment plans.
Clare Savage, Chairman of AER, stressed the need for energy retailers to make sure that customers, that are presently on a deferred debt arrangement, are moved to supportive hardship programs or payment plans where appropriate.
Savage stated that the AER wants to see the retailers take proactive actions to help their consumers. Which means that it is important that customers do not ignore any letters, texts, emails, and calls from retailers.
If customers are concerned about their energy bills, they can speak to their respective retailers about their energy debt even if paying the bills is not possible presently. Retailers would work together with customers and their power connection would continue as is, added Savage.
Savage also stated that it is highly important, that if possible, consumers make some payments towards their pay energy bills, even if it is just a couple of dollars per week. This would help them eliminate some of their debts and effectively ensure that energy firms can work smoothly and deliver maximum support to customers struggling due to the pandemic.
The Statement of Expectations by AER has been in action since March 2020, to help customers secure their energy supply. The agency has successfully helped record 37,000 fewer disconnections as well as 154,000 fewer debt collection referrals in comparison to the same time last year.
Similarly, grievances about ombudsman schemes have also witnessed a drop across several jurisdictions.
Angus Taylor, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, stated that it is extremely vital that businesses and households receive the help they need to deal with the harsh economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.