The National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) provides protections that recognise energy as an essential service. These additional protections for energy consumers are related to:

  • guaranteed connection and limitations on disconnections and energy interruptions
  • customers facing financial difficulty
  • customers requiring life support equipment. 

Disconnection and reconnection

Under the NECF, retailers and distributors must comply with different requirements before disconnecting a customer's premises, there are certain limitations for interruptions and there is a general obligation to maintain customer connection.



Figure 1.5: Disconnection/reconnection protections                            

These consumer protections include:

  1. Distributor planned interruptions: a distributor must use its best endeavours to restore the customer's energy supply as soon as possible.
  2. Limitations for de-energisation: retailers and distributors must not de-energise a customer's premises except in accordance with the rules. The circumstances where retailers or distributors may de-energise a customer premises are prescribed by the rules as follows:
    1. when the customer does not pay the energy bill
    2. when the customer does not pay the security deposit
    3. when the customer denies access to the meter
    4. for illegally use of energy or interference
    5. for non-notification by move-in or carry-on customers
    6. other specific reasons for distributors (health and safety, false information, safe access, among others).
  3. Requirements for de-energisation: retailers and distributor must not arrange the de-energisation of a customer's premises where:
    1. the premises are registered as having life support equipment
    2. the customer has made a complaint directly related to the reason for the de-energisation
    3. the customer has contacted the retailer raising the issue that no explicit consent was obtained and the issue remains unresolved
    4. the customer is a hardship customer or a residential customer into a payment plan
    5. the retailer is aware that the customer has formally applied for assistance to an organisation responsible for a rebate, concession or relief
    6. the de-energisation ground is for non-payment of other goods and services other than the sale of energy
    7. the amount outstanding that has not been paid by the customer is less than an amount approved by the AER
    8. the customer is going to be disconnected for not paying the bill during extreme weather event or during a protected period.
  4. Re-energisation of gas and electricity: retailers and distributors are required to re-energise a customer gas and electricity supply in accordance with the energy laws. Retailers and distributors must notify each other that the premises have been re-energised as soon as practicable. 
  5. Obligation to re-energise: retailers and distributors must arrange the re-energisation of premises if, within ten business days, the customer rectified or made satisfactory arrangement to solve the matter that lead to the de-energisation.

Financial difficulty

The NECF has additional protections for consumers when they are experiencing payment difficulties with their energy bills, they are in financial difficulty due to hardship, or they need life support equipment. As the NECF is an energy specific framework, these types of regulations are focused on energy consumers and therefore, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) does not contain any similar provisions. Figure 1.5 below lists these additional consumer protections under the NECF.



Figure 1.6: Additional protections

Under the NECF, retailers are required to provide support and assistance to their customers who are experiencing financial difficulty to pay their energy bills. The following are the additional consumer protections that the NECF provides:

  1. Payment difficulties: retailers must provide, to hardship customers or other residential customers experiencing payment difficulties, information about the availability of government funded energy charge rebate, concessions or relief schemes.
  2. Shortened collection cycles: retailers may place a small customer on a shortened collection cycle, unless the customer is experiencing payment difficulties.
  3. Payment plans: a retailer must offer and apply payment plans for hardship customers and customers experiencing payment difficulties.  A retailer must comply with the requirements on how to offer and when to offer payment plans.
    1. The payment plan must consider: 
      • the customer's capacity to pay
      • any arrears owing by the customer
      • the customer's expected energy consumption needs over the following twelve months
      • including an offer of advance payments or in arrears by instalment payments.
    2. Information: a retailer must inform the customer of certain information about the plan and payment instalments.
  4. Debt recovery: retailers must not commence proceedings for recovery of a debt if the customer is complying with a payment plan or other payment arrangement or the retailer has failed to comply with the requirements of its hardship policy, payment plans and assistance for customers experiencing hardship or payment difficulties. 
  5. Specific limitations of disconnection for not paying the bill: once a customer (hardship customer or residential customer) informs the retailer that the customers is experiencing payment difficulties, a retailer must not arrange the de-energisation of the customer's premises for not paying the bill. It may only arrange the de-energisation if the retailer has offered the customer 2 payment plans in the previous 12 months and:
    • the customer agreed to neither of them
    • the customer has agreed to a plan but it has been cancelled due to non-payment.
  6. Hardship policy: retailers must develop and maintain a hardship policy for residential customers that must be approved by the AER and be publicly available on the retailer's website. Any variation to a hardship policy is subject to the approval of the AER. 
    1. Obligation to inform consumers: the NERL requires that where it appears to the retailer that a customer did not pay its energy bill due to hardship, the retailer must inform the residential customer the availability of the policy. A retailer must inform a hardship customer of the retailer's hardship policy as soon as practicable after the customer is identified as a hardship customer. A retailer must also provide the hardship customer with a copy of the customer hardship policy on request and at no expense. 
    2. Policy requirements: a retailer's customer hardship policy (or variation) submitted to the AER must:
      1. comply with the customer hardship policy guideline
      2. include standardised statements informing customer of how the retailer will comply with the minimum requirements and providing guidance on customer rights and retailer obligations
      3. contain clear and specific statements of the actions the retailer will take to meet the minimum requirements
      4. be submitted within 3 months of any amendment to the AER's guideline
      5. be implemented as approved by the AER 
      6. be published on the retailer's website as soon as practicable after it has been approved.
    3. Disconnection as last resort: a retailer must give effect to the general principle that de-energisation (disconnection) of the premises of a hardship customer due to the inability to pay is a last resort option.
    4. Contractual consistency: the terms of a market retail contract have no effect to the extent they are inconsistent with the application of the retailer's hardship policy to the relevant customer. 
    5. Payment by Centrepay: any standard retail contract offered to a hardship customer must have Centrepay available as a payment option. 
    6. Waiver of late payment fee: a retailer must waive any fee payable for late payment under a customer retail contract with a small customer who is a hardship customer.

Life support equipment

Additionally, the NECF protects customers that require life support equipment. The following are the specific consumer protections for these customers:

  1. Planned interruption limitations: a retailer or distributor may only arrange a planned interruption to the premises of a person that requires life support equipment by obtaining the affected customer's explicit consent to the interruption occurring on a specific date. 
  2. Limitations for disconnection: a retailer or distributor must not arrange the de-energisation of a customer's premises where the premises are registered as having life support equipment.
  3. Registration of life support equipment: when a retailer is advised by a customer that a person residing or intending to reside at the premises requires life support equipment, the retailer or distributor must:
    1. register that a person at the premises requires life support equipment and the date from which the life support equipment is required
    2. inform the customer that is being registered within five business days
    3. notify the retailer or distributor (as applicable) that a person residing or intending to reside at the premises requires life support equipment and the date from which the life support equipment is required.
  4. Medical confirmation requirements: the retailer or the distributor must give the customer fifty business days to give medical confirmation and send in the meanwhile two reminder notices that this must be provided. 
  5. Ongoing obligations: the retailer or the distributor must not arrange for the de-energisation of registered premises as requiring life support equipment, except in the case of an interruption. 
  6. Deregistration of premises: a retailer or distributor may only deregister a customer's premises that requires life support equipment if:
    1. the customer did not provide medical confirmation and the retailer or distributor has:
      1. complied with the timeframe and notification requirements (medical confirmation requirements)
      2. taken reasonable steps to contact the customer
      3. provided the customer with a deregistration notice no less than fifteen business days from the issue of the second confirmation reminder notice.
    2. the customer has advised that the person from whom the life support equipment is required has vacated the premises or no longer requires life support equipment, the retailer or distributor provided the required written notice with the date of deregistration.
    3. the distributor becomes aware that the customer has transferred retailers at that premises, the distributor may deregister with the required written notice and the date of deregistration.