The ACCC has announced it has given interim authorisation to allow the Australian Energy Council and wholesale and retail energy businesses to hold discussions, share information and enter into arrangements for the purpose of providing financial relief and other measures to small, medium and large businesses.
“We know the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant economic impact on consumers and businesses in Australia, which is why we have granted this interim authorisation,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“Energy is an essential service and this is an important opportunity to allow energy market participants to support consumers and businesses through the pandemic.”
Importantly, authorisation is only granted on the condition that any agreements between energy retailers are not materially inconsistent with the relevant applicable principles set by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
The AER’s principles are aimed to ensure the continued safe and reliable supply of energy to homes and businesses, including expectations about payment plans and hardship arrangements, no disconnections and deferring referrals to debt collection agencies for recovery actions.
“The AER’s Statement of Expectations provides important principles that should be adopted by energy retailers in their dealings with customers during the COVID19 pandemic, and we expect any conduct under this authorisation to meet or exceed the expectations set out in these principles,” Mr Sims said.
The AEC must also regularly update the ACCC and the AER about the information shared and the decisions made by retailers as part of the authorisation.
“We believe that allowing the AEC and energy businesses to work together will enable customer relief to be provided more quickly and efficiently than it would if the parties were to work on these measures independently,” Mr Sims said.
“We will closely monitor the effect of these arrangements and when it is appropriate for this authorisation to be revoked.”
Having granted interim authorisation for the arrangements, the ACCC will now seek feedback on the application for final authorisation which is sought for a period of 12 months from the date of authorisation.