AER cracks down on life support infringements

Energy companies that do not provide vulnerable people relying on life support equipment suitable notice of potentially dangerous interruptions to electricity supply are firmly in the sights of the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

AER figures show an increase in companies allegedly failing to abide by the life support provisions in the National Energy Retail Rules, with seven infringement notices already paid by companies so far in the 2018/19 financial year.

AER chair Paula Conboy said this situation must improve.

“Customers relying on life support equipment are particularly vulnerable and any unexpected loss of supply can have dangerous, and even fatal consequences,” Ms Conboy said.

“They are entitled to receive notice of any planned interruption to their supply.

“We have already taken enforcement action and had seven infringement notices paid so far this financial year.

“Companies must understand that any breach will be swiftly investigated and appropriate action taken.”

The AER issued 14 notices to companies in 2016/17 totalling $280,000 and nine in the last financial year ($180,000).

In the most recent infringement notices handed out by the AER, TasNetworks and Energex paid $140,000 in penalties for alleged breaches of the life support obligations.

Energex paid $60,000 for three alleged breaches while TasNetworks paid $80,000 over four alleged incidents.

In all matters, life support customers did not receive at least four business days’ written notice of a planned interruption to their electricity supply.

“It is imperative these customers receive advanced notice of any planned interruption to their energy supply, so they can make alternative plans,” Ms Conboy said.

“This reduces any risk of harm occurring or more serious consequences for those customers.”

In addition to the financial penalties, Energex will also be required to undertake an independent audit to ensure it has adequate systems and processes in place to manage these important protections.

TasNetworks has provided additional assurances to the AER that it will introduce new systems to eliminate potential sources of errors causing the alleged breaches as well as implementing annual refresher training for staff.

From February 2019, new rules will strengthen the protections for customers who need life support equipment.

These new rules are designed to allocate responsibilities clearly and appropriately between retailers and distributors and improve the accuracy of life support registers.

“The new rules commencing are designed to strengthen these protections and we will be writing to industry about our expectations including having effective processes and suitably trained staff in place,” Ms Conboy said.