New rules to protect those experiencing family violence

Little girl looks scared as father yells at her and her mother (family violence)
Image: Shutterstock

Energy customers affected by family violence will soon be better protected under new rules set out in a final determination published by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC).

AEMC chair Anna Collyer said family violence perpetrators can exploit energy services to control survivors, undermine financial security, and inflict psychological and physical harm. 

Related article: Energy retailers push for rule change on family violence

“Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability, homelessness and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor,” she said.

“Perpetrators can use the need for utilities like gas and electricity in many ways to control and harm people—including finding them in new locations.

“This work is occurring under the National Energy Retail Rules because energy retailers can play a significant role in helping protect the survivors among their customers.

“The final rule includes measures that protect customers’ physical safety by safeguarding their identities and locations, as well as helping with the financial challenges that frequently arise after leaving a violent household.

“It requires actions for retailers that will drive changes to their culture, like building their staff’s skills and making the safety of an affected customer paramount in their dealings.

“Practical changes for retailers include developing processes that reduce a customer’s need to re-live their trauma by having to repeatedly describe their circumstances.”

In undertaking this work, the AEMC consulted extensively with the energy sector, family violence organisations, and other sectors that had instituted similar protective policies, such as telecommunications and banking. 

Economic Abuse Reference Group national coordinator Carolyn Bond said new measures that prevent a retailer from asking an affected customer to provide evidence of domestic abuse would go a long way. 

“It is so important to see in this rule change that victim-survivors of abuse no longer have to provide evidence before they receive assistance. Many people choose not to go to court or report their abuse to the police in order to obtain documentary evidence. On the other hand, in situations where that evidence is available, it can contain personal details that can re-trigger trauma for the customer and be confronting for staff,” Bond said. 

Anna Collyer said the AEMC worked hard to cover the most significant number of customers with this rule by adopting a broad definition of family relationships to identify family violence and including small business and residential customers.

“Similarly, we also recommend the rule’s protections should apply to ‘embedded networks’ such as caravan parks, where there might be a single electricity meter with multiple individual users paying a share of the bill,” she said.

The final rule requires that when dealing with customers affected by family violence, retailers must:

  • have regard firstly to the safety of an affected customer in any dealing they have with them.
  • not disclose confidential information about an affected customer to another person (and must require their contractors and agents not to disclose this information) without the customer’s consent.
  • provide a secure process to identify affected customers and minimise the need for them to repeatedly disclose their experiences.
  • not require documentary evidence in order to offer protection.
  • ensure staff can identify, assist, and engage appropriately and effectively with customers affected by family violence.
  • adopt, publish, and comply with a comprehensive family violence policy.
  • consider family violence as likely to cause payment difficulties and hardship, meaning affected customers may also qualify for other forms of assistance.

Related article: AER announces protection for hardship customers

The rule change was requested by Red Energy and Lumo Energy. It follows successful family violence reforms in Victoria, draft reforms in Western Australia, and family violence protections in other essential service sectors, including water, banking and telecommunications.

The rule commences on May 1, 2023.

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