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A message from the Ombudsman

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has amplified an existing concern for many Australians – energy affordability. Many more households are now facing increased power bills resulting from unemployment, working and schooling from home and self-isolation. The pandemic has also created a dilemma for many people who have no prior experience of wondering how they will pay their energy or water accounts. But in an unprecedented and positive move, we are now seeing both energy retailers and network providers proactively working together to provide affordability assistance to their customers. These steps, combined with State and Commonwealth government stimulus initiatives, round out a rigorous energy affordability support program. 

My latest blog COVID-19 sparks long-term energy affordability solution outlines how Coronavirus could be the circuit breaker we need to address energy affordability in the future. 

AER calls on all energy businesses to put customers first

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) responded to the Coronavirus crisis by releasing a comprehensive Statement of Expectations calling on all energy businesses to put customers first during the pandemic. It outlines ten principles it expects energy retailers to follow, including:

  • extending affordability arrangements to all customers in financial stress, even if they don't meet the usual criteria
  • not disconnecting residential or small business customers in financial stress before 31 July 2020 and possibly beyond 
  • deferring referrals to debt collection agencies, and not credit default listing customers until at least 31 July 2020
  • waiving disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees incurred during any period of disconnection until at least 31 July 2020
  • waiving daily supply charges for small businesses that have ceased operation.

New EAPA Delivery Guidelines - COVID-19

The NSW Government has significantly boosted Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) funding in response to COVID-19. Customers experiencing financial difficulty will now be offered increased support to help pay their residential electricity and gas bills

  • Customers who have received the maximum value in EAPA vouchers can now be assessed for another application of vouchers.
  • Customers who have received two EAPA approved electricity or gas applications can now be assessed for a third application.
  • The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will consider requests for a fourth or more applications of EAPA vouchers for any customers impacted by COVID-19.

Some EAPA providers are conducting telephone assessments during the COVID-19 crisis. Find the list of EAPA providers taking phone assessments here

I strongly encourage customers, or their community worker advocates, to reach out to energy providers and take advantage of the assistance being offered during these unsettling times. Phone wait times may be bit longer than usual – so please be patient and if possible, use online contact channels. 

EWON has effectively transitioned to working from home arrangements so we are ‘business as usual’ and here if you need us. Stay well!

Janine Young
Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW