“To the eight customers affected, we are very sorry,” an EnergyAustralia spokesperson said in a statement. “There is no doubt we made mistakes and fell short of the standards people expect of us.”
“Of course, we are disappointed that the AER has taken the decision to go to court, but we remain committed to working closely with them and building the best possible system of support for vulnerable customers.”
We’re alleging that EnergyAustralia knew these people were in financial hardship and disconnected them anyway.
AER chair Clare Savage
The alleged breaches occurred in NSW, Queensland and South Australia between June 2016 and July 2018. The customers were disconnected for various lengths of time, ranging from about two hours to five days.
Some of the customers were disconnected on more than one occasion.
It is the first time litigation of this sort has been launched by the regulator and AER chair Clare Savage said ensuring compliance with the hardship laws is vital for building consumer trust in the sector.
“We’re alleging that EnergyAustralia knew these people were in financial hardship and disconnected them anyway. EnergyAustralia’s alleged failures made these customers’ situations worse by denying them access to the full range of protections to which they were entitled,” Ms Savage said in a statement.
In November 2017, Origin paid two infringement notices after the company failed to offer hardship assistance and then cut the power from the house of a vulnerable customer although this payment is not an admission of breaching the retail laws.
Ms Savage urged customers in financial troubles to contact their retailer to discuss options.
“It can be tough to start a conversation about payment difficulties, and hard to know where to turn for help. If you expect to have trouble paying an upcoming bill, or your debt is mounting, call your retailer. It is their job to help you.
“As long as you are in a hardship program and meeting its conditions, you cannot legally be disconnected.”
Charlotte is a reporter for The Age.