With Victorians in lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19, small businesses may once again be left feeling vulnerable.
To help, the Essential Services Commission (ESC) has announced it would be introducing a new mandatory guideline that asks retailers to provide assistance to small businesses experiencing financial stress.
The guideline is expected to come into effect on 1 October 2020 for six months, however may be extended should it be necessary.
“While Victoria already has the most comprehensive safety net for residential customers in the country, we have added additional protections for customers who are behind on payments,” said Commission chair, Kate Symons.
“There’s a new requirement for retailers to provide practical, hands on help to customers to apply for utility relief grants as well as expanding a requirement to offer price checks for anyone who has fallen behind on their energy bills.”
And while there was no set definition of ‘financial stress’ in the ECS’s guideline document, retailers still have a range of relief assistance options they must extend to small businesses.
Some of the assistance retailers must provide small businesses at a minimum include:
- payment flexibility, to help small businesses avoid getting into arrears with their retailer
- payment assistance, to help small businesses in arrears pay for their ongoing energy use, repay their arrears, and lower their energy costs
- making payments of an equal amount over a specified period
- options for making payments at different intervals
- extending by a specified period the pay-by-date for a bill for at least one billing cycle in any 12-month period.
According to Symons, data collected by the Commission found that between April and the end of July, the average arrears for small businesses customers had grown by 20% for electricity and 30% for gas.
She also explained that support for small businesses is a part of a wider response for the state.
“We’ve been meeting with peak bodies, energy retailers and distributors and community organisations since early April as well as collecting data to track the impact of the pandemic to ensure our regulatory decisions are timely, targeted, proportionate and effective,” she said.
If you’d like to find out more about what your retailer is doing to support vulnerable customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, check out our wrap up article.
Or if you’d like to compare small businesses energy plans in Victoria, head on over to our energy comparison tool.