Rule Change: Completed

Overview

On 15 November 2018 the Australian Energy Market Commission made a rule to help customers who are having trouble paying their bills due to hardship. The rule aims to improve retailers’ hardship policies so customers can better understand their rights and get the help they need to pay their power bills.
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On 15 November 2018 the Australian Energy Market Commission made a rule to help customers who are having trouble paying their bills due to hardship. The rule aims to improve retailers’ hardship policies so customers can better understand their rights and get the help they need to pay their power bills. 

Final determination

The rule requires the Australian Energy Regulator to develop Hardship Guidelines that include consistent and specific statements that retailers must include in their hardship policies. The aim of these statements is to provide guidance to customers (and their advocates) on their rights under the hardship policy, while also allowing retailers flexibility in how they develop their hardship programs to meet their customers' needs.

The AER must have the Hardship Guidelines in place by 1 April 2019. Retailers will then have two months to submit their updated policies to the AER for approval. The new policies must be approved and implemented by no later than 1 October 2019. 

The AEMC and AER are jointly recommending the COAG Energy Council approves a civil penalty provision if retailers do not submit hardship policies that comply with the Hardship Guidelines.

The AEMC is also recommending that COAG Energy Council amend the National Energy Retail Law (NERL) to ensure new retailers have hardship policies in place before they are able to get their retailer authorisation from the AER. 

Background

To support residential customers who are having difficulty paying their electricity and gas bills, the NERL includes provisions relating to customer hardship policies. 

As part of its monitoring and enforcement work program, the AER identified a number of issues relating to the way in which hardship policies are being implemented. As a result, the AER considers hardship programs are not providing the support they should to residential customers in financial difficulty. 

On 21 March 2018 the AER submitted a rule change request to strengthen retailer hardship policies.

On 24 May 2018 the AEMC published a consultation paper setting out the issues raised by the rule change request. A further stakeholder meeting was held on 22 June 2018. 26 submissions were received on the consultation paper and can be found below. 

On 6 September 2018 the AEMC published a draft determination and a draft rule on the rule change request.  The AEMC and the AER held a joint stakeholder workshop on 25 September 2018. 20 submissions were received on the draft determination and can be found below.
 

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