The peak body for energy retailers, the Australian Energy Council, energy companies and a broad range of consumer advocates have undertaken a unique collaboration to develop Best Practice for Energy Retailer Assistance.
The AEC is pleased to publish the first iteration of a best practice guide, which is designed to support retailers in their efforts to enhance the support they provide customers who are having trouble paying their energy bills.
“This project is a genuine and cooperative effort, which given the impact of the COVID pandemic comes at the right time,” said AEC Chief Executive, Sarah McNamara.
The resources are intended to provide guidance for retailers on approaches that can improve the outcomes for customers experiencing difficulty. They are based on the practical experiences of the consumer sector and energy retailers.
“This project illustrates a new way of thinking for the AEC and highlights the commitment our members have to helping their customers recover from the COVID pandemic and to develop positive relationships with their retailer,” said Ms McNamara.
“This resource demonstrates an approach different to minimum standards regulations, in that it provides a goal to work towards that retailers are able to tailor to meet the needs of their customers, building on existing support frameworks.”
A new approach was agreed on through the process of this work. It involved collaborative discussions between retailers and community advocates and agreed on the following:
- Recognising best practice principles for assistance in response to COVID will involve long term processes and culture changes that can and should be relevant beyond the pandemic.
- Recognising the best outcomes for consumers, the community and industry, will be realised by continuing to collaborate, and recognising the needs of customers.
- Recognising this work is a first step that will require ongoing commitment from industry and community and support from Governments.
Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Chief Executive Officer, Jonathon Hunyor, said: “This is a welcome commitment by retailers to improve how they support the energy needs of the community. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us how important energy retailer practices can be in easing the burden on people who are struggling financially. PIAC looks forward to continuing to work with retailers to develop and implement better practices, to ensure all people can get the energy they need.”
Uniting Communities SA, Manager Advocacy and Communications, Mark Henley, said: “Energy retailers need to be able to work with their customers in responding to uncertainty. The Best Practice guide is a very positive next step in improved customer services for energy customers that will lead to higher levels of trust.”
Queensland Council of Social Service, Chief Executive Officer, Aimee McVeigh, said: “This is a significant first step towards improving the level of support retailers should be offering to consumers. QCOSS will continue to work in partnership with the AEC and others to further progress the steps the industry can take to support consumers through energy hardship.”
Two documents are being released today. The first provides a range of agreed principles to guide retailers in the developing assistance frameworks. They are designed with positive customer outcomes in mind, focusing on building trust, genuine engagement, debt mitigation, and maintaining connection wherever possible.
The second sets out practical steps and examples for retailers to implement these principles. The examples illustrate the broad challenges facing energy consumers, and measures retailers might take to support them. It is important to note this document is not a checklist, but a resource to assist retailers in better designing their own processes, based on expert guidance from consumer advocates.
The AEC has identified key areas where more work is to be done and will continue to work with consumer groups and retailers to build on this resource to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the community.
About the Australian Energy Council
The Council represents 21 major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses operating in the competitive wholesale and retail energy markets. These businesses collectively generate the overwhelming majority of electricity in Australia, sell gas and electricity to over 10 million homes and businesses, and are major investors in renewable energy generation.