Disconnection disaster: AER called in to review energy hardship policies
A growing number of electricity disconnections across eastern states has prompted the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) to conduct a review of hardship policies.
The purpose of hardship policies is to identify and provide assistance to energy customers experiencing payment difficulties, with the hope of helping Aussies better manage their electricity bill.
Total electricity disconnections have increased from 63,843 to 64,926 over the last financial year across all states, excluding Victoria.
AER chairman, Paula Conboy explained that this number is “troubling”, and the extreme measure of disconnecting households needs to be put up for debate for its fairness.
"The increase in the number of electricity customers being disconnected is troubling: disconnecting a customer is a serious measure and we consider that this step should only be taken as a last resort," she said.
While all states experienced an increase in disconnections, particularly low-income households, Queensland saw the largest number of disconnected households as a result of non-payment.
Earlier this week, Essential Services Commission chair, Ron Ben-David revealed that many Aussies are struggling to meet discount conditions, like paying on time, and are entering hardship programs already with existing debt to clear.
“The average debt for someone entering a hardship program for 2016-17 was $1,241, meaning these customers are already a year behind before they start getting help,” he said.
According to a recent AER report, electricity costs currently make up 5.8% of a low-income household’s disposable income and with only one in four customers successfully exiting the retailer hardship program, current aid may not be enough.
“We are reviewing retailer hardship policies. Hardship policies need to provide real assistance to more consumers. We will use all the tools available to us to ensure retailers are meeting their obligations to customers in this very important area,” Conboy explained.
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