Victorian customers will be empowered to take control of their energy costs under a new safety net released today by the Essential Services Commission for public consultation.
The Commission says a new safety net is needed to help prevent Victorians from accumulating large debts, ensure that disconnection for not paying a bill is always a last resort, and make the rules enforceable.
A new Customer Advice Manual also released today sets out the new entitlements and explains what help Victorian customers can expect to receive from their energy company.
The Commission today released its Draft Decision on the Payment Difficulties Safety Net following changes to Victorian energy industry legislation earlier in the year.
The safety net aims to put customers in Victoria facing payment difficulty in control of the way they use and pay for their energy and help them to repay energy debts.
The safety net provides customers facing payment difficulty with:
clear entitlements to assistance from their energy company
certainty of the minimum standards of assistance they should receive
access to practical information about the cost of their energy use
assistance to reduce the cost of energy use.
The new safety net prohibits energy companies from asking customers intrusive questions about their financial and personal circumstances and will ensure that Victorian customers will be disconnected only as a last resort.
The safety net will come into effect on 1 July 2017.
On 1 January 2016, Victoria’s energy industry legislation was amended to include a new objective for the Commission. This objective is to promote protections for customers, including in relation to assisting customers who are facing payment difficulties.
The new safety net responds to this objective and builds on the findings of the Energy Hardship Inquiry, which concluded that energy hardship programs were not preventing customers from accumulating large debts or being disconnected.
The safety net entitles customers to assistance ranging from regular standards payments, payment plans that meet individual needs, to help to manage and reduce energy costs and prepayment.