Alinta Energy pays penalties for allegedly failing to provide adequate assistance to customers in financial hardship
24 January 2023
Alinta Energy Retail Sales Pty Ltd (Alinta Energy) has paid more than $380,000 in penalties after allegedly breaching energy rules that protect Victorian consumers by failing to provide adequate assistance to customers in financial hardship.
The Essential Services Commission served penalty notices on Alinta Energy in December 2022 following an investigation which indicated that between December 2021 and March 2022, Alinta Energy failed to provide adequate assistance to 13 residential energy customers who were experiencing financial hardship for a range of reasons including a death in the family and a loss of work due to Covid-19.
The commission issued penalty notices for Alinta Energy’s alleged failure to provide adequate assistance to nine of the 13 customers.
Commission chairperson Kate Symons said energy retailers in Victoria are legally bound to provide several forms of assistance to customers under bill stress.
“The commission’s overarching objective is to promote the long-term interests of Victorian consumers and that’s why the Payment Difficulty Framework was established four years ago, mandating specific types of assistance energy retailers must offer residential customers facing or anticipating financial difficulties,” Commissioner Symons said.
“Energy is an essential service and businesses delivering energy must follow the rules. There is no excuse for failing to provide the help consumers are legally entitled to, especially those who may be experiencing vulnerability.”
It was alleged Alinta Energy required four of the 13 customers to speak to a financial counsellor before it provided assistance, while the others received some, but not all, forms of assistance that should have been offered.
“Placing unnecessary barriers and prolonging the time it takes for customers to receive assistance can heighten the hardship being experienced, and that’s something the commission won’t tolerate. All of these customers were actively engaging with Alinta Energy, and many had explained why they needed assistance,” Commissioner Symons said.
“Ensuring energy retailers put consumer needs and protections first is one of the commission’s enforcement priorities for 2022-23, and we will take action whenever businesses don’t meet their obligations to support customers.”
While Alinta Energy advised the commission it had waived the 13 customers’ debts totalling approximately $49,000, Commissioner Symons said the matter was particularly disappointing as penalty notices worth $1.125 million were paid by Alinta Energy in 2021 in relation to similar alleged conduct.
The commission can issue penalty notices where it has reason to believe a business has contravened a civil penalty requirement. Payment of a penalty notice is not an admission of a contravention of a civil penalty requirement.