COVID-19 energy protections extended for a limited time

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Additional protections to support households and small businesses struggling with energy bills will be extended for a limited time to enable retailers and customers to work together to tackle energy debts.

Australian Energy Regulator Chair Clare Savage said the regulator expects retailers to continue making contact with those customers with energy debt who need support and to transition them onto sustainable payment plans or hardship arrangements.

“We’re very conscious that the winding back of temporary income support measures may make things more difficult for some customers. So, in the coming months, residential customers will continue to be protected from disconnection and referral to debt collection agencies provided they are in contact with their retailer about their debt,” Ms Savage said.

“These additional protections can’t last forever though and it is likely they will end on June 30, 2021. So we would like to see as many people as possible take the opportunity to transition onto sustainable payment plans or hardship programs before June 30, 2021.

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“Our focus remains on encouraging both retailers and customers to reach out to each other and agree a sustainable payment plan based on an individual customers’ capacity to pay and for retailers to provide additional hardship support where appropriate.

“We want to see retailers taking proactive action to assist their customers so it’s critical that customers don’t ignore the calls, emails, texts and letters from their retailers.

“Now is the time for customers to agree an affordable plan with their retailer and to start chipping away at their debt, even if it’s just a few dollars a week.

“While we saw debt for residential energy customers increase in 2020, this year debt levels have stabilised so it’s time to start bringing down energy debt and continue working towards a return to normal.

“We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on households and small businesses over coming months, as well as retailers’ compliance with the important consumer protections provided under the energy laws.

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“While we have been very pleased with the way the energy sector has supported customers through the pandemic to date, we will not be afraid to take enforcement action if necessary.”

Performance indicatorResidentialSmall business
Number of electricity customers in debt1 at 1 March 2021 / % increase since 30 March 2020130,000 customers / 10% 16,100 customers / 22% 
Total electricity debt at 1 March 2021 / % increase since 30 March 2020$149 million / 32% $43 million / 21% 
Average amount of electricity debt $ at 1 March 2021 / % increase since 30 March 2020$1151 / 19% $2660 / -1% 
Number of customers on payment plans (electricity and gas) at 1 March 2021 / % increase since 30 March 2020107,500 customers / -5% Payment plan data only collected for residential customers under AER guidelines.

[1] Debt represents electricity 90-day debt, which is debt that has been outstanding for 90 days or more. 90-day debt data is our most robust measure of voluntarily provided outstanding customer debt. This data is based on our COVID-19 retailer voluntary data and is not as robust as the data we collect on a quarterly basis through our mandatory Performance Reporting Guideline process. Data in the table has been rounded.

For more information go to the COVID-19 Retail Market Data Dashboard.