Important consumer information about energy retailer obligations in Victoria
01 June 2022
The Essential Services Commission is aware that a number of energy retailers are contacting customers advising them to find new retailers to avoid increases in consumer energy bills due to wholesale electricity market prices.
We recognise that consumers may be concerned about their ongoing energy supply or their ability to pay for their energy usage as the market enters a period of higher energy prices, and energy retailers adjust their products, services and messaging.
We want to reassure Victorians that there are protections for residential and small business customers when it comes to price changes and energy retailers communicating with customers about what offers are the best for them.
There are also protections in place if an energy retailer were to go out of business that involve automatically transferring customers to other retailers. Consumers will not lose access to or continuity of gas or electricity supply if an energy retailer goes out of business.
We continue to monitor and regulate the Victorian energy market in the long-term interest of Victorian consumers. We are closely examining energy retailers’ compliance with obligations that are designed to protect customers when prices change.
Wholesale electricity and gas prices are currently driving increases in energy prices for consumers. We encourage Victorians to contact their energy retailer regularly to check they are on the best price. There is also the Victorian Government’s $250 power saving bonus payment for households who use the free and independent energy price comparison website, Victorian Energy Compare, to seek out a better price. This comes into effect on 1 July 2022. Other ways to keep energy costs down include tracking and adjusting energy usage, and installing energy efficiency lighting and appliances, and rooftop solar panels.
If you’re having trouble paying your energy bills, you are entitled to assistance from your retailer. Don’t delay, contact your energy retailer as soon as possible to get help. Talk to your retailer about what concessions, rebates, utility relief grants or payment plans might be available, and notify them if you or someone at your premises requires life support equipment.
Know your consumer rights
Every electricity retailer in Victoria must offer residential and small business customers the current Victorian Default Offer. The default offer is a simple and trusted electricity price that is set by the Essential Services Commission, not energy companies. It provides Victorian consumers access to a fair electricity deal even if they are unable or unwilling to engage in the retail market.
Victorian retailers can only increase prices at specific times to provide customers with certainty about prices (unless the customer is on an exempt market contract and has explicitly agreed to different arrangements). When that occurs depends on whether a customer is on a standing or market contract. For electricity customers on market contracts that are not fixed term contracts, the next time prices may be increased is 1 August 2022. Retailers must give notice to customers of any variations to tariffs and charges as soon as practicable.
When a fixed term retail contract is due to end, retailers must notify residential and small business customers approximately one month beforehand and advise customers of their options. This includes the availability of the Victorian Default Offer for electricity customers or a standing offer for gas customers. Every gas retailer in Victoria is required to make a standing offer available to residential and small business customers that provides a basic service.
All Victorian energy retailers are required to carry out ‘best offer checks’ and advise residential and small business customers if they have another offer that may save the customer money. Customers will see ‘best offer’ information on their electricity and gas bills at least once every four months.
If a customer is facing bill stress, they should ask their energy retailer for help and the energy retailer must offer the customer assistance – this might include giving the customer an extension to a bill payment due date or allowing them to pay for energy in advance if that is more appropriate.
If a customer has missed a bill payment and owes money to an energy retailer, a retailer must provide information about the customer’s entitlements to assistance to help them repay their arrears and continue to keep their electricity and gas connected. This includes information about payment plans to defer or customise bill payment frequency and amounts, or concessions or rebates that may help to reduce a customer’s bills.
If a customer is eligible for a utility relief grant, a retailer must complete an application for a utility relief grant on their behalf. This is a grant offered by the Victorian Government to provide relief of up to $1,300 to customers with a pensioner concession card, health care card, veterans’ affairs gold card or who are from a low income household.
When a contract comes to an end, residential and small business customers may be automatically moved on to a retailer’s Victorian Default Offer or standing offer. If that occurs and the customer continues to pay, the retailer cannot disconnect the customer simply on the basis that the previous contract has ended.
If you have a complaint about your retailer, consider getting in touch with the Energy and Water Ombudsman on 1800 500 509. This is a free and impartial dispute resolution service available to all Victorian energy consumers.
Note: This article was updated on 3 June 2022 to clarify conditions under which Victorian retailers can increase prices.