A range of measures to protect and support customers will be in place when full retail competition begins.
Electricity is an essential service that is critical to support Tasmanian households and businesses to go about their everyday activities, and it is important that everyone has access to affordable and reliable electricity.
The Government and Aurora Energy currently provide a range of schemes that support the Government’s objective of ensuring that all Tasmanians can access affordable electricity. These schemes will be continued under full retail competition to ensure vulnerable Tasmanians have access to the same support structures and initiatives.
It will be legislated that all electricity retailers who enter the Tasmanian market must provide electricity concessions to eligible customers. This means that the Tasmanian health care card and pensioner concessions, which is currently set at $450 per customer per year and indexed to price increases, will continue with no changes to eligibility for concessions.
Customers will not have to reapply to receive the concessions from their new retailer as eligibility details will be transferred, without breaching confidentiality requirements, to the new retailer.
The Government will also ensure that other concessions are continued under full retail competition, including the current Life Support Discount, Heating Allowance and other essential discounts as they arise. A new Medical Cooling Rebate will also be introduced. More information can be found in the Electricity Concessions Fact Sheet.
For further information on Electricity Concessions offered, please see the Tasmanian Concessions Guide http://www.concessions.tas.gov.au/
Customer Hardship Arrangements
The Government will accept responsibility for maintaining Aurora’s existing contributions to the Salvation Army’s hardship program and the No Interest Loan Scheme. Further, the Government will honour all current sponsorship arrangements that Aurora has unless they are taken over by another business.
More information can be found in the Market and Regulatory Framework Position Paper.
Under the National Energy Customer Framework, retailers are also required to have clear customer hardship arrangements in place to identify residential customers who are having trouble paying their electricity bills.
National Electricity Customer Framework
On 1 July 2012 the Tasmanian Government adopted the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF), which places a range of legal obligations on any electricity provider and distributor to protect consumers. The NECF covers:
- standard contract terms and conditions that must be offered to customers;
- ensuring that customers always have access to a standard contract for electricity supply;
- specific protections for customers who are facing financial hardship or who rely on life support equipment;
- marketing practices;
- providing customers with information about products, prices and their rights; and
- customer complaint handling and dispute resolution.
Aurora Energy is currently required to comply with NECF requirements. When new retailers enter the Tasmanian market underfull reatil competition, NECF will apply to these retailers in exactly the same way, which means your existing rights and protections will not change. However, it is worth knowing your rights as a customer to help prepare for when you have more choices about which retailer you want to contract with for your electricity supply.
The below topics detail the key legal protections offered to customers under NECF.
Contract Types and Standard Terms and Conditions
Standard Retail Contracts
Under NECF, all retailers are required to have available what is called a ‘standard retail contract’ (SRC). The terms and conditions of the SRC are set by law and deal with requirements relating to billing, payment, security deposits, disconnection and reconnection, complaints and disputes, and termination.
The standard contract that will be offered by new retailers will be, for all practical purposes, identical to the contract that is currently offered by Aurora Energy. If you are not familiar with what Aurora’s standard contract looks like, you can access it here: http://www.auroraenergy.com.au/policies/electricity-contract/ or you can contact Aurora on 1300 13 2003 to obtain a copy.
Market Retail Contracts
Retailers are also allowed to offer what are called ‘market retail contracts’. These kinds of contracts allow retailers and customers the flexibility to voluntarily enter into arrangements outside the standard retail contract arrangements. Market contracts often include discounts and benefits for customers compared to the standard contract. The prices, conditions and duration of market contracts are determined by the retailer. However, in order to protect customers, retailers are still required to comply with certain minimum standard requirements under NECF.
The law requires that retailers do certain things when contracting with a customer under a market contract. Specifically, the retailer must tell the customer about the availability of its standard contract and ensure that the customer has provided ‘explicit informed consent’ to enter into the market contract. The retailer must also provide full and adequate disclosure of all information relevant to obtaining a customer’s informed consent and must keep records of customer consent for a minimum period of two years.
Customers also have a ten-day ‘cooling off’ period after signing a market contract, where they may withdraw from a market retail contract, even where supply by a retailer has commenced.
‘Deemed Supply’ Arrangements
Deemed supply arrangements make sure that a customer is not left without access to electricity in the situation where that customer’s market retail contract has expired or where the customer moves into a house or apartment that is connected to the network but has not yet arranged for a contract with a retailer.
The designated retailer for that premises – usually the retailer who last supplied electricity to the house or apartment under a contract with a customer – is required to continue to provide electricity to those premises under a ‘deemed supply’ arrangement until the customer enters into a contract with a retailer.
Deemed supply arrangements are only designed to apply for a short time to give customers the chance to enter into a contract with a retailer. Therefore, customers are required to take appropriate steps to enter into a standard or market retail contract with a retailer as soon as possible in these circumstances.
Guaranteed Access to an Electricity Supply Contract
One of the key aspects of NECF is to ensure that every small customer has a designated retailer that must offer them a standard retail contract, so that as a customer you can never be in the situation where no one will agree to supply you with electricity under reasonable terms and conditions.
In Tasmania, the Government has also decided that every small customer will be assigned what is called a ‘Regulated Offer Retailer’ that will be required to make an offer to supply electricity to that customer under its standard retail contract at regulated prices, which will determined by the Tasmanian Economic Regulator. This means that if you do not like the prices or conditions offered by retailers under their market offers, you will always have access to an option where the prices are set according to what the Regulator considers to be fair and reasonable in the context of what it costs the retailer to supply you with electricity.
Who your Regulated Offer Retailer is will depend on which retailers enter the Tasmanian market, where you live and whether you have an existing connection or need to establish a new connection (e.g. where you are building a house). You will be provided with more information about your Regulated Offer Retailer and their obligations closer to the commencement of full retail competition.
Customers Facing Financial Hardship
Under NECF retailers are required to have clear customer hardship arrangements in place to identify residential customers who are having trouble paying their electricity bills.
Retailers are required to develop and maintain a customer hardship policy, which must meet minimum legal requirements. Retailers’ hardship policies must all be assessed and approved by the Australian Energy Regulator and retailers’ compliance with their own policies is monitored.
As a minimum, if you inform your electricity retailer you are experiencing financial difficulties, they must offer you a payment plan to make the bill payments more manageable. The retailer may also offer further assistance if you are a hardship customer including:
- flexible payment options, for example payment plans and Centrepay – where agreed amounts are directly deducted from Centrelink payments;
- help to access other support services such as concessions and financial counselling; and
- advice about saving energy in the home.
If you are a hardship customer or a residential customer on a payment plan because you are experiencing financial difficulties, and you are meeting the terms of the plan, you cannot be disconnected.
Retailers cannot charge late payment fees to identified hardship customers. In Tasmania, concession customers are also exempt from late payment fees.
If you would like to get an idea of what a retailer’s hardship policy looks like, Aurora Energy’s current policy is available online at www.auroraenergy.com.au/your-home/bills-and-payments/bill-assistance/auroras-hardship-policy/ or you can contact Aurora on 1300 13 2003 to obtain a copy.
Customers with Life Support Machines
Under NECF, where you inform either your electricity retailer or distributor in writing that a person who lives in your home requires life support equipment, there are strict limitations for your retailer or distributor to disconnect your home for so long as the person in need of life support continues to live at that address.
To be eligible as a life support customer, you need to provide confirmation by a medical practitioner of the need for life support equipment at the premises. Retailers and distributors are both required to maintain a register of life support customers.
NECF also requires that life support customers are given every opportunity to guard against the risk of unavoidable supply interruptions, such as during an emergency supply outage.
Customers qualify as life support customers under NECF if they require any of the following equipment:
- an oxygen concentrator;
- an intermittent peritoneal dialysis machine;
- a kidney dialysis machine;
- a chronic positive airways pressure respirator;
- crigler najjar syndrome phototherapy equipment;
- a ventilator for life support; and
- any other equipment that a registered medical practitioner certifies is required for a person residing at the customer’s premises for life support.
NECF life support provisions will be unaffected by the entrance of new retailers under full retail competition – all retailers will have to comply with the NECF requirements, as Aurora Energy currently does.
In Tasmania, most life support customers are also eligible for a concession that gives them a discount on their electricity bills. For more information, see the Electricity Concessions Fact Sheet.
Like any business, electricity retailers engage in marketing activities to try to attract and keep customers. However, there are laws in place to ensure that customers are protected from unwelcome, unethical or misleading marketing practices. Electricity customers are protected, like all customers, by Australian Consumer Law.
NECF also provides for some additional protections specific to electricity customers, which include the requirement on retailers to provide certain information to customers and to obtain specific informed consent before entering into contracts and a ten-day ‘cooling off’ period from the commencement of any market contract where customers may decide not to proceed with the contract.
Marketers are prevented by law from doorknocking on Sundays and public holidays, before 9am or after 6pm on weekdays and before 9am or after 5pm on Saturdays. If contacting you by telephone, marketers cannot call on Sundays or public holidays, before 9am or after 8pm weekdays and before 9am or after 5pm on Saturdays. If you are registered on the national ‘Do Not Call’ register, marketers cannot legally call at any time.
If an electricity salesperson contacts you, they must tell you who they are and why they are contacting you. If the contact is in person, they must show you identification and leave your home or property if you ask them to.
If you sign up to a new energy contract, the salesperson must give you a written copy of the sales agreement, inform you of your right to cancel the contract and the steps to do this, and not ask you to waive your right to cancel within the cooling off period. Salespeople for energy providers cannot force or pressure you into signing up to an energy contract or to buy services you are not interested in.
Customers also have the power to prevent electricity retailers from contacting them to market their products. There are a few ways to do this:
- you can ask to be placed on any energy provider’s ‘do not contact’ list, which means that they cannot contact you by email or in person at your home for the purpose of selling products. Retailers must maintain a register of all customers who ask to be put on this list with all entries on the list being valid for up to two years;
- if you do not want to be contacted by door-to-door salespeople (this applies to all salespeople, not just electricity providers), you can also display a ‘Do not knock’ sticker. These are available free of charge from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission here: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/1070453/fromItemId/ACCC; and
- if you do not wish to be contacted by telephone salespeople, you can add your telephone number(s) to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s ‘Do not call’ register. For more information, visit https://www.donotcall.gov.au or call 1300 792 958.
There are serious penalties for businesses that breach consumer law. If you think a salesperson who has contacted you has not met their legal requirements you can contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Infocentre on 1300 302 502.
Under the NECF, customers have a legal right to be provided a range of information by both retailers and distributors, including information to identify who is their designated retailer, information to be given to customers when entering into a retail contract, historical billing information, tariff variations, and disconnection warning notices.
When a retailer offers you a contract they will be required to supply you with an Energy Price Fact Sheet, which includes key information such as:
- charges for electricity and gas and any fixed or standing charges;
- all fees;
- all discounts and rebates; and
- other key information such as the length of the contract, options for solar customers and where you can access the full terms and conditions.
When a small customer contacts their designated retailer to obtain supply, NECF also requires the retailer to also disclose the availability of its standard contract to ensure that customers are aware of this entitlement.
As part of NECF, the Australian Energy Regulator has launched a free independent comparison service that allows customers to compare electricity contract offers in their area – see: http://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/. Retailers are required by law to provide a range of contract and pricing information to the AER so that it can maintain this service for customers.
This service does not currently apply Tasmania, but will automatically ‘go live’ with the introduction of full retail competition.
Complaints and dispute resolution
NECF requires that electricity retailers and distributors publish on their websites a set of procedures (their ‘standard complaints and dispute resolution procedures’), for responding to customer complaints, which must be consistent with the applicable Australian Standard for complaint handling.
A retailer or distributor is required to handle a customer complaint in accordance with its published procedures, and to advise the customer in a timely way of the outcome of their complaint, including any reasons for their decision.
The retailer or distributor must also inform a customer that if they are not satisfied with how they have handled their complaint, the customer can refer the matter to the energy ombudsman in their State or Territory, and they must provide the contact details for the Ombudsman.
The services provided by the Ombudsman are free to consumers and the Ombudsman has the power under relevant laws to make a decision with which the electricity retailer or distributor must comply. However, customers should always direct their dispute or complaint to their retailer or distributor in the first instance.
The Ombudsman’s contact details are as follows:
Enquiries: Monday to Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm (excluding public holidays)
Phone: 1800 001 170 (free call in Tasmania) or 1300 766 725
Fax: (03) 6233 8966
Street: Ground Floor 99 Bathurst Street, Hobart 7000
Postal: GPO Box 960 Hobart 7001