Energy retailers and government must act to protect vulnerable people

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The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) welcomes the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) announcement of its expectations of energy retailers to ensure people can afford their energy bills and stay safe and healthy in their homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

The AER has outlined its expectations of the support that energy retailers should provide their customers: including opening up access to hardship supports, suspending disconnections of customers in financial hardship, and suspending debt collection and other recovery actions until 31 July 2020.

The AER has also signalled its intent to monitor how companies meet these expectations through its performance reporting framework.

PIAC supports these actions and calls on government to now work to provide additional financial support to the large numbers of people who will be unable to pay their energy bills in coming months.

‘The Australian Energy Regulator’s statement sends a clear message to energy retailers: as providers of an essential service, they need to make sure they are doing all they can to keep the power on,’ said Craig Memery, Head of Energy Policy, Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

‘Millions of people have lost work and income overnight. As the same time, people are being asked or forced to spend more time at home, pushing up energy costs when they are least able to pay,’ Mr Memery said. ‘Governments have provided strong and decisive income and housing support measures. Attention is now needed to prevent energy bill debt building up and keep people connected to essential energy supplies.’

PIAC calls on the Commonwealth government and industry to work together to develop a plan to deliver targeted energy bill relief to prevent the accumulation of energy debt and protect vulnerable people.

‘Implementing measures to support the community and help people pay bills as soon as possible is critical, and government and industry should work together to deliver them,’ said Mr Memery.

‘Energy retailers are already in the practice of administering government support to customers who need it. They are well-placed to help administer targeted, government-funded hardship support, and will benefit from doing so by preventing unsustainable debt accumulation while retaining customers,’ said Mr Memery.

‘As competing essential costs such as rent, food and healthcare are priorities, energy-specific support measures are required to keep people at home and healthy throughout the crisis, and to ensure adequate support is in place for the many that will inevitably slip through the cracks of other measures,’ said Mr Memery.

MEDIA CONTACT: PIAC Energy Communications Officer, Anna Livsey: 0478 739 280.

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