Energy companies told not to chase up debts or disconnect customers during COVID-19 crisis

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Energy companies are being urged to “put customers first” during the coronavirus health crisis, with many Australian families expected to struggle with their bills.

The energy regulator has reminded retailers that they provide an essential service and have a key role to play in protecting residential and business customers.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has set out its expectations to power companies, including that they offer payment plans or hardship arrangements to all residential and small business customers who indicate they are in financial stress, regardless of whether they meet the ‘usual’ criteria for assistance.

In addition, they have been told that no residential or small business customers in financial stress should be disconnected without their agreement before the end of July, 2020. Similarly, they must defer the referral of customers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions, or credit default listing until the same time.

AER Chair, Clare Savage, said that energy retailers are expected to act according to the magnitude of a crisis that has already created significant unemployment and loss of income for consumers.

“We understand the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Australian community and our stakeholders,” she said.

“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 said that energy businesses operate as part of the community, and 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,” she said.

“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.

“We are pleased to see a number of businesses have already made announcements indicating they will be meeting these expectations, but we will be monitoring the whole market to ensure all customers are properly protected.

“The AER is not calling for an amnesty on bill payments and encourages those Australians who can to pay their bills on time to continue to do so.

“This is vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of energy businesses. However, we also recognise that the circumstances arising from this pandemic mean more customers may find it difficult, or impossible, to pay their bills at the moment.”

Ms Savage urged residential and small business customers having trouble paying their bills to get in touch with their retailer immediately to seek their support.

During this crisis, the AER says it will be prioritising the safety and reliability of energy supply, ensuring retailers meet the needs of customers in vulnerable circumstances and protecting customers who may be unable to safeguard their own interests.

While the AER acts as the consumer watchdog for energy customers in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT, the regulator in Victoria has issued a similar range of measures to ensure protections for customers in that state.

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Take action and find a better energy deal

While the energy regulators are making moves to protect vulnerable customers during the COVID-19 crisis, households are also encouraged to be proactive and ensure they’re getting a good deal.

Canstar Blue Editor-in-Chief, Simon Downes, said customers should realise they are still free to compare and switch providers in search of better value, even during the coronavirus scare, with several competitive deals available in each state, including many online-only deals.

“If you’re spending more time at home, take the opportunity to make sure you’re on a good deal, just to make that next energy bill a little less of a concern,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about your electricity supply turning off because this has nothing to do with your retailer, so don’t let fear of the lights going out prevent you from finding a better plan.

“The energy company call centres will be busy at this time but there are some good online deals you can access with a little effort, including spending some time comparing on our website. The plans below are updated regularly with some of the cheapest deals on our database, so that’s a good starting point.”

Electricity prices compared

If you think you could be getting a better energy deal, the table below lists some of the cheapest published deals on our database. Hit the right tab to see plans in your state.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Image credit: Speedkingz/Shutterstock.com

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