Customer protection framework
Last updated: 3 August 2010
Customer Assistance Policy
The NSW Government is continuing to develop a package of consumer protection measures to help NSW customers meet the rising cost of electricity and gas. Key to this is increasing direct financial assistance, like rebates and emergency assistance vouchers, and expanding assistance, like financial counselling services combined with strong regulations.
Over $800 million will be spent on a range of programs, including the Customer Assistance Policy, over five years from 1 July 2009. This amount includes a boost of $272 million in funding allocated in 2009, plus a further $48 million in new funding provided in 2010.
Following wide public consultation on the draft Customer Assistance Policy, the Government has responded to community feedback by further developing some of the key elements. Some of these have already been implemented and other measures are in development.
Background to Customer Assistance Policy.
Targeted financial assistance under the Customer Assistance Policy
The Energy Rebate has been extended to holders of Health care cards issued by Centrelink as a result of receiving one of a number of income support payments from the Commonwealth from 1 July 2010 and increased to $145 a year. The rebate will rise further to $161 a year from 1 July 2011. Expanding the Rebate to more than 275,000 new customers from 1 July 2010 will make this targeted financial assistance accessible to 1 million NSW households.
The Medical Energy Rebate which commenced on 1 January 2010 has also been increased from $130 a year to $145 a year for eligible customers who have a medically diagnosed inability to self-regulate body temperature. This rebate helps those customers that typically have higher electricity bills due to their heating and cooling needs required for health reasons.
In addition the Government offers all customers who are experiencing difficulties paying their energy bills due to a crisis or emergency situation access to financial assistance through the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme.
Customer Hardship Charters
The NSW Government has developed new requirements and a strengthened framework for retailers' customer hardship charters and payment plans. These requirements were implemented as part of the Customer Assistance Policy.
Energy retailers are now required to develop, implement and publish detailed Customer Hardship Charters outlining ways to identify a hardship customer, and any suitable Government concessions that may apply, together with flexible payment options and appropriate financial counseling services.
A residential customer experiencing financial difficulties must now be provided with two offers of assistance under their retailer's payment plan in a year, instead of one, before being disconnected.
To implement the new requirements, amendments to two regulations were made. Industry & Investment NSW invited comments on the proposed amendments.
Submissions have now closed. See the list of submissions.
The NSW Government is also providing up to $600,000 over two years to the Financial Counsellors Association of NSW (FCAN) to increase the number of training places for financial counsellors. This is expected to deliver training to about 80 financial counsellors across NSW. These counsellors will be able to help customers manage energy and other household bills, providing long term support to customers in addition to retailer hardship programs.
Financial counsellors have backgrounds in social work, law or accountancy and can negotiate, provide advice on rights and responsibilities regarding credit and empower customers with knowledge.
Financial counselling services are offered by non-profit organisations to customers free of charge. For more information visit www.fcan.com.au.
Customer Assistance Policy new initiatives
The NSW Government has been consulting industry and stakeholders to determine the most suitable programs to develop under the Customer Assistance Policy. Public consultation on the Draft Customer Assistance Policy closed on 31 July 2009.
Since then, the Government has implemented a number of initiatives and others have been further developed including training for financial counsellors.
A comprehensive Energy Assistance Guide is under development. This Guide will primarily be targeted at the community sector and others working with energy customers facing difficulties in paying their bills. It will provide information on the full range of assistance and programs available to energy customers experiencing hardship in NSW. It is also intended that the Guide will be supplemented with a range of other information materials and resources, such as fact sheets.
To ensure retailers provide easy to understand and up to date information about their prices, the Government has introduced strengthened price disclosure requirements, which require retailers to provide information about available energy offers on their website, and to any person on request free of charge, making it easier for customers to understand the terms and conditions of these offers when they are selecting their energy retailer.
A price comparison service is also under development that will assist energy customers to shop around and find the best deal for their circumstances.