Energy company fined for leaving customers on life support without power

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One of Australia’s biggest power suppliers has been fined $60,000 by the energy regulator for allegedly cutting power to customers on life support, without warning.

Energex, the company responsible for electricity distribution in south-east Queensland, was penalised by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for leaving households with life support equipment unexpectedly without power on three separate occasions.

Energex has paid the penalties for the alleged breaches of the life support protections under the National Energy Retail Rules, which require customers registered as requiring life support equipment to receive written notice of at least four business days of a planned interruption to electricity supply.

“Protecting customers requiring life support equipment is an absolute priority for the AER. Customers on life support equipment are particularly vulnerable as any unexpected loss of supply can have dangerous, even fatal, consequences,” said AER chair Paula Conboy.

“It is imperative that these customers receive advanced notice of any planned interruption to their energy supply, as it reduces the risk of harm and allows customers to make alternate arrangements. Whenever we see evidence of distributors failing to comply with these important obligations, we will take appropriate action.”

Energex, which supplies almost 1.4 million homes and businesses across south-east Queensland, currently has an administrative undertaking with the AER which it provided in May 2017. As part of this undertaking, Energex has committed to improving its systems and processes for managing its life support obligations.

The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Retail Rules. The AER can issue an infringement notice where it has reason to believe that a business has contravened a civil penalty provision of the Rules.

What protection is there for life support customers?

The National Energy Retail Law and Retail Rules – which apply in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania – set out key protections and obligations for energy customers requiring life support equipment and the retail and distribution businesses they buy their energy from.

The Retail Rules require that when a household is registered as having life support equipment, customers are required to be given:

  • general advice that there may be a planned or unplanned interruption to the supply,
  • information to assist them prepare a plan of action in the case of an unplanned interruption,
  • an emergency telephone number for the distributor at no more than the cost of a local call, and
  • at least four business day’s written notice of any planned interruption.

To be eligible for these protections, customers must provide their energy retailer or distributor with confirmation from a registered medical practitioner that a person residing at the customer’s premises requires life support equipment.

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