New research shines light on vulnerable energy customers

Carer places reassuring hand on that of disabled man in wheelchair (customer)
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New research conducted by Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) is helping network operator AusNet understand the vulnerability of customers living with disability to disruptions of electricity services and is providing valuable insights to improve services in the industry.

Through AusNet’s $30,000 2022 Vulnerability Research Grant, YEF investigated the experiences, risks and impacts faced by customers living with disability or chronic health conditions, highlighting any differences and its impact compared to other customers, within AusNet’s electricity distribution network.

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AusNet general manager strategic planning and customer Fran Duiker said the report emphasised the complexities of the relationship between energy, disability, the availability of other services, and other societal and environmental factors.

“The ‘Shine the Light’ report has highlighted that the energy needs of customers with disability are diverse, and when they interact with other risk factors, some precarious situations are created. Six per cent of our customers reported having a disability and 33% are managing a chronic health condition, which is quite a large proportion of our overall customers,” Duiker said.

“We acknowledge that power outages are inconvenient for all customers, but the psychological impacts of outages, especially when combined with loss of communications, can be severe for customers with disability and mean the loss of support and ability to seek care.”

Yarra Energy Foundation chief operating officer Timothy Shue said being awarded this grant enabled YEF to undertake invaluable research to further inform their approach to supporting customers experiencing vulnerability.

“The report shines a light on the experiences of previously unheard voices of people impacted directly by the disrupted supply of electricity,” Shue said.

“We made a number of recommendations for AusNet and government to help foster inclusivity, reduce risks, and minimise the impact on customers living with disability and specialised support needs.”

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AusNet is addressing these recommendations through a combination of improvements to general service levels and support specifically designed for customers with disability. Other recommendations identified are activities best led by government or other service providers, where AusNet can play a supporting role.

The full report, including recommendations and responses, can be downloaded on the Community Hub.

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