This guidance note was published on 28 October 2020.
Guidance note 6 (2020): Considering customers’ circumstances when discontinuing their tailored assistance, clauses 83(1), 89(1)(aa) and (a)
An energy retail industry pulse check was issued to retailers on 4 May 2020 to understand the practices retailers have in place to support customers experiencing payment difficulties and family violence in line with protections in the Energy Retail Code.
The pulse check found retailers may not have considered the combined application of clauses 83 and 89. A key issue was – when do customers’ circumstances need to be considered?
Having regard to industry’s responses in the pulse check, the commission considered the requirements of clauses 83(1), 89(1)(aa) and (a) and provides the following guidance.
Clause 83(1) provides:
83 Continued provision of assistance
(1) A retailer is required to continue to provide assistance under this Division to a residential customer unless:
(a) after the retailer has complied with clause 81(6), the customer has refused or failed to take reasonable action towards paying for their on-going energy use and repaying their arrears; or
(b) after the retailer has complied with clause 82(2), the customer has refused or failed to take reasonable action towards making payments towards the cost of their on-going energy use; or
(c) the customer is not facing payment difficulties.
Clauses 89(1)(aa) and (a) provide:
89 Retailer obligations
(1) A retailer must:
(aa) in any dealing with an affected customer who is receiving, or is entitled to receive, assistance pursuant to Part 3A (Assistance for customers affected by family violence), take into account the particular circumstances of that affected customer; and
(a) in any dealing with a residential customer under, or in connection with, Division 3 take into account all of the circumstances of the customer of which they are aware and, having regard to those circumstances, act fairly and reasonably.
The pulse check found most retailers had not thought about the need to consider family violence circumstances before discontinuing the tailored assistance of these customers. Instead, most retailers only appeared to consider family violence circumstances before arranging a customer’s disconnection. Guidance on this point is provided below.
As a retailer, when do I have to consider a customer’s circumstances?
The circumstances of a customer who may be affected by family violence need to be considered from when the retailer identifies the customer as a customer who may be affected by family violence.
The circumstances of a customer experiencing payment difficulty (for example, family violence circumstances) need to be considered from when the customer becomes eligible for tailored assistance.*
It is not sufficient for a retailer to only consider a customer’s circumstances at the point of disconnection. An example of when a customer’s circumstances must be considered is when discontinuing their tailored assistance in accordance with clause 83(1).
* A customer is eligible for tailored assistance if they meet the criteria in clause 80(2) i.e. a customer who has not paid a bill by its pay-by date and who has arrears of more than $55 (inclusive of GST).
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