Regulator takes Origin to court over life support obligations

Person wearing CPAP mask with pillow behind them (ergon fined)
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The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Origin Energy following admissions it failed to comply with its life support obligations under the National Energy Retail Law and the National Energy Retail Rules (the Retail Rules).

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The AER alleges, and Origin admits, that it breached the Retail Rules on more than 5,000 occasions. The breaches involved:

  • Failing to register customers after being informed by either the customer or the relevant distributor that a person at the customer’s premises required life support equipment.
  • Failing to inform the relevant distributor that a person at the premises of certain customers required life support equipment.
  • Failing to provide customers with information packs notifying them of relevant protections and assistance.
  • Improperly deregistering the premises of customers with a person requiring life support equipment without following all the steps required to check whether life support equipment was required. In some cases, Origin disconnected the customer’s energy supply.

As a result, some customers were unregistered and did not have the protections that the life support provisions provide for up to 188 days, while others were disconnected and without power for between one and 66 days. There was no loss of life associated with these breaches.

AER chair Clare Savage said, “The Retail Rules contain the obligations retailers must meet when they are informed of the life support needs of a customer. Failure to comply with these obligations can seriously compromise the health and safety of these vulnerable customers.

“The Australian Energy Regulator has previously published guidance to help retailers and distributors understand their responsibilities when it comes to customers who rely on life support equipment. We will continue to act when obligations to support vulnerable customers are not met.”

A number of these breaches involved third party agents Origin had engaged to assist it to comply with its life support compliance obligations. Origin also admits it failed to establish the policies, systems, and procedures necessary to efficiently and effectively monitor its compliance with the requirements of the Retail Rules.

In addition to bringing these proceedings, the AER has accepted a court enforceable undertaking from Origin in which Origin admitted to an additional 1,973 breaches of the requirement to provide information packs to life support customers.

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Origin has also undertaken to make a $1 million community-based contribution to organisations which assist sections of the community who use life support equipment.

The AER is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations and costs.

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