Given the challenging times, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has released a statement of expectations for energy companies to help drive much-needed relief for customers.
This comes as welcome news. At Business Australia, through the Business Energy Advice Program (beap), we've already helped thousands of businesses save on their energy bills. The market is changing fast. Energy companies have already taken steps to waive any disconnection fees and offer payment plans for companies struggling to pay bills.
This means now is the time to check your energy bills for saving opportunities. It only takes a few minutes and every dollar counts to improve your bottom line.
Expectations of energy companies during COVID-19
The AER expects energy companies to act immediately to support their customers by:
- Waiving any disconnection, re-connection and/or contract break fees for small businesses which have gone into hibernation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020.
- Offering all households and small businesses who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement.
- Not disconnecting customers who may be in financial stress, without their agreement before 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond.
- Deferring referral of any customer to a debt collection agency for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond.
- Minimising the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works, and providing as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses to manage during any outage.
Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the government will be closely monitoring retailer and network compliance with these measures.
“The electricity and gas sector, as an essential service, has an obligation to support customers through these difficult times,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“While several energy companies have taken some steps to assist their customers in financial stress, during these difficult times we expect more action,” Mr Taylor said.
“We expect energy companies to look after their customers, keep them connected and waive additional fees and charges for those doing it tough.”
Check if your provider has a hardship program
Most energy companies have a hardship program for small businesses. You will need to check if your provider covers you and eligibility. Once on the program:
- they won’t be able to disconnect you if you stick with it
- they won’t be able to send debt collectors after you if you stick to it
- many will help you access government concessions and rebates.
If you’re struggling to afford your energy bill, call your energy retailer to get onto their hardship program as soon as possible.
Some states have a different way of operating when it comes to energy.
For Queenslanders, Energex and Ergon are still government-owned and they have promised no disconnections during the crisis. The state government will also send small businesses an extra $500 and households an extra $200 payment towards power bills.
Eligible businesses in Tasmania, won't have to pay their first quarterly electricity and water bills issued on or after April 1. Electricity prices will also be capped and some fees and charges will be frozen.
Energy networks across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have announced a suite of measures to provide support to customers enduring hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The electricity and gas network relief package complements other initiatives across the gas and electricity sector and will take effect from 1 April.
Unsure if you have the best energy deal?
A majority of energy retailers have agreed to the list of 10 key principles from the regulator. Consumers should undertake an immediate health check on their energy costs for business and households.
It’s a free energy comparison service. Just enter your details online, and in under 10 minutes on the phone, an energy expert will explain your options to get the best deal on your energy supply. If you decide to switch, all the paperwork will be taken care of.
To get started, make sure you’re a Business Australia member. If you’re not yet a member, you can sign up here for free.