Customer assistance programs
Electricity and gas suppliers
In New South Wales, electricity and gas retailers are required by law to have a published hardship charter and to operate a customer assistance program.
Retailers may have slightly different criteria for eligibility on to their hardship programs. The common element is that when a customer is part of their assistance program they are protected from disconnection and a tailored payment arrangement is developed to help them manage their account.
Differences between the hardship programs of retailers can include the types of incentives the retailer offers customers for making regular payments (eg waiving fees, making co-payments).
According to the Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001 (Clause 13AA) and the Gas Supply (Natural Gas Retail Competition) Regulation 2001 a customer hardship charter must contain the following:
- processes to identify hardship customers, including identification by the supplier and self-identification by the customer
- processes for the early response by the supplier for hardship customers so identified
- flexible payment options (including the payment plan operated in accordance with Clause 13A for the payment of amounts to the supplier by hardship customers
- processes to identify appropriate government concession programs and appropriate financial counselling services and to notify hardship customers of those programs and services
- an outline of a range of programs that the supplier may use to assist hardship customers
- information, in community languages (including Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek and Spanish, and any other language approved by the supplier after consultation with any relevant customer consultative group), about the availability of interpreter services for the languages concerned and telephone numbers for the services.
The Australian Energy Regulator is currently developing guidelines for National Hardship Indicators.