Energy suppliers to customers: we’re here to help
In response to the Victoria energy retailers 2011-12 report released by the Essential Services Commission, the Energy Retailers Association of Australia appealed to customers to investigate payment options that are already available to them. In a media release, the ERAA addressed the two main points highlighted in the report: the increase in disconnections and the lack of movement with regards to customer participation in hardship programs.
Victoria had a statewide disconnection rate increase of 33% compared to the previous year. Cameron O’Reilly, ERAA chief executive notes that the disconnections stem from rising energy bills across the country. “This is mainly due to rises in the cost of generating electricity, delivering it to customers – as well as green energy schemes,” Mr O’Reilly explained.
The ESC report also noted that the disconnections appear to be effective in compelling people to pay. Fifty per cent of disconnected customers updated their accounts and were able get reconnected within seven days. Despite the rise in disconnections, there was no rise in participation in hardship programs or instalment plans.
The ESC and consumer groups note that this might indicate that retailers are not proactive in identifying customers who are experiencing financial difficulties. These customers will benefit from a more flexible payment plan and still have electricity in their homes.
However, non-participation in retailers’ hardship programs could also mean that customers do not inform retailers of their payment issues and that they need financial assistance. Mr O’Reilly points out that all retailers have existing hardship programs for customers that need them. Retailers can draw up a payment plan that is tailor-made for customers, whether they are experiencing a “short term difficulty or a longer term hardship”.
Information on these programs is easily available online. A quick online search yielded the following: AGL’s Staying Connected Program , Energy Australia’s Hardship policy, and Origin Energy’s Power On Program, to name a few.
“We encourage customers to talk to their retailer to see what payment options are available,” Mr O’Reilly added.
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