Alinta Energy is waiving more than $1 million in customer debt owed by over 400 bill-payers, after the regulator launched an investigation into the provider’s treatment of its vulnerable customers.
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) investigation is related to an incident with Alinta earlier this year, where it was fined $1.125 million for failing to help customers struggling to pay their bills.
From September 2019 to March 2020, it was alleged that Alinta Energy may have required some vulnerable customers to make upfront payments or seek financial counselling in instances where they could have accessed payment plans or joined Alinta’s hardship program.
It was also alleged that the retailer may have wrongfully disconnected some customers for non-payment of their energy bills.
Complaints brought to the various state Energy Ombudsman offices sparked the investigation, with some concerned that Alinta Energy had failed to implement its own hardship policy during this period, AER Chair Clare Savage explained.
“We were very concerned about the alleged conduct, in particular Alinta’s lack of identification of customers in hardship,” she said.
The retailer’s willingness to co-operate and assist in the investigation, however, has since reassured the regulator, Ms Savage added.
“Had it not been for Alinta’s willingness to acknowledge the AER’s concerns, improve its systems and processes, and offer substantial customer redress, we would have taken the matter further. The waiving of more than $1 million in customer debt is a significant outcome for vulnerable consumers and will provide direct relief to affected customers.”
Since the investigation was launched, Alinta Energy has substantially improved its systems, and has advised the AER that it is currently in the process of contacting all affected customers to issue an apology and wipe the debt from their accounts.
An Alinta Energy spokesperson has emphasised the company’s commitment to reviewing its practices.
“We reiterate our sincere apologies to those customers affected and confirm that we are continuing to strengthen our policies and processes across our business to try to ensure something like this can’t happen again.”