The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has commenced Federal Court proceedings against EnergyAustralia for the alleged wrongful disconnection of eight electricity customers experiencing financial distress.
The AER also alleges that EnergyAustralia failed to maintain and implement its hardship policy and did not offer or apply payment plans to the customers.
Retailers are required to provide protections to customers in financial difficulty under the National Energy Retail Law and Rules.
AER Chair, Clare Savage, said that robust enforcement ensuring compliance with the law is vital for building consumer trust that the energy market rules are working and that companies are doing the right thing.
“We’re alleging that EnergyAustralia knew these people were in financial hardship and disconnected them anyway,” Ms Savage said.
“EnergyAustralia’s alleged failures made these customers’ situations worse by denying them access to the full range of protections to which they were entitled.”
Ms Savage urged people experiencing financial difficulty to contact their retailer to access the hardship protections to which they may be entitled.
“It can be tough to start a conversation about payment difficulties, and hard to know where to turn for help. If you expect to have trouble paying an upcoming bill, or your debt is mounting, call your retailer. It is their job to help you,” Ms Savage said.
“As long as you are in a hardship program and meeting its conditions, you cannot legally be disconnected.”
The AER is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations, orders requiring implementation of a compliance program and the appointment of a compliance officer, and costs.
The AER’s Customer Hardship Policy Guidelines came into effect from April 2019. From October, retailers were required to implement new policies that provided stronger protections for vulnerable consumers.