The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has issued a statement calling on energy businesses to put customers first during the current global health crisis, stressing that the energy market plays an important role in protecting and supporting businesses.
The AER outlined a number of expectations, among them an offer of payment plans or hardship arrangements to all residential and small-business customers who indicate they may be in financial stress.
Moreover, the regulator has asked energy companies to press pause on disconnections of any residential or small-business customers who may be in financial stress without agreement before 31 July 2020, but potentially beyond.
It has also requested that energy companies waive disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees for small businesses that have ceased operation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020.
“We understand the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Australian community and our stakeholders,” said AER chair Clare 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.”
Ms Savage opined that energy businesses operate as part of the community, and as such, they bear the weight of community expectations.
“People enter into a contract when they sign up with an energy retailer. But businesses also have a deal, a social contract, with the community in which they operate. At a time like this, it is vital they remember their broader social obligations,” Ms Savage explained.
“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.”
She advised all small-business owners facing financial hardship to contact their retailer now.
“If you are a residential or small-business customer concerned you may have trouble paying your bill, get in touch with your retailer immediately and seek their support,” Ms Savage said.
“This does not necessarily mean ringing a call centre, as many retailers offer payment assistance options like extensions to due dates through their websites.”
The AER underpinned, however, that is not calling for an amnesty on bill payments and encouraged Aussies who can pay their bills on time to continue to do so, ensuring the ongoing viability of energy businesses.