AER calls on energy industry to consider its customers

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The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) calls on Australian energy businesses to have consideration for their customers doing it tough during the Coronavirus outbreak. 

The AER’s “Statement of Expectations of energy businesses: Protecting consumers and the energy market during COVID-19“, is a call for the energy market to assume the full gravity of its important role in this time of crisis. 

In this crisis we often fall to the cliche – “uncertain times,” but remember what we are uncertain about, not the crisis itself but the duration. Now, ‘duration’ here is not a matter of discussing Bergson, it is a matter of survival. And that is what the AER is trying to reiterate in its call upon the energy market. In this time of crisis, we need to help each other survive for the duration. 

The AER makes a host of key expectations upon the energy market. Some are quite ready-made, such as the waiving of fees for small businesses, but others are more substantial and require the energy industry to take responsibility. 

For instance, energy retailers should offer payment plans or hardship arrangements to all residential and small business customers who have the courage or desperation to admit they’re doing it tough. Usually, for such consideration, a customer would need to meet eclectic criteria, the applicant needs to have validated victimhood, an X-factor sob story and a written-note from their mother. The AER is calling on a more lenient approach. 

Moreover, AER is asking that no disconnections occur to any residential or small business customers experiencing hardship before 31 July 2020, at least. Similarly, the AER also calls on the suspension of referrals of customers to debt collection agencies. 

AER Chair Clare Savage said that energy retailers are expected to act according to the magnitude of a crisis that has already created significant unemployment and loss of income for consumers. 

“We understand the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Australia community and our stakeholders,” said Savage. “Many people are or will be affected by dramatic changes to their lives, businesses, income and working arrangements, and those of their friends, families and communities. As a result, their energy use and ability to pay their bills could be affected.” 

Savage and the AER believe that in much the same way a customer enters into a contract with an energy retailer, businesses have a social contract with the community in which they operate. They have, in short, a responsibility. 

“When people have lost their jobs or business through no fault of their own, it is only fair to expect that they be given any and all help possible, and that includes from their energy providers,” continued Savage. 

Savage called on any residential or small business customer worried about managing their energy bills to get in touch with their retailer immediately and seek their support. 

To do its part, the AER has set out its own priorities. The AER sees it as a priority to ensure retailers proactively meet the needs of customers, especially vulnerable ones. Of course, to this end, the AER also prioritises the safety and reliability of the energy supply as well as getting ahead of the pandemic by organising our recovery.