New protections and assistance for energy customers affected by family violence are proposed in a draft determination released for comment by the Australian Energy Market Commission today.
The Chair of the AEMC, Anna Collyer, said energy services can be exploited by family violence perpetrators to control survivors, undermine financial security, and inflict psychological and physical harm.
‘Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor,’ she said.
‘Perpetrators can use the need for utilities like gas and electricity in many ways to control and harm people – including finding them in new locations.
‘This work is occurring under the National Energy Retail Rules because energy retailers can play a significant role in helping protect the survivors among their customers.
‘The draft includes measures that protect customers’ physical safety by safeguarding their identities and locations, as well as helping with the financial challenges that frequently arise after leaving a violent household.
‘It proposes actions for retailers that will drive changes to their culture, like building their staff’s skills and making the safety of an affected customer paramount in their dealings.
‘Practical changes for retailers include developing processes that reduce a customer’s need to re-live their trauma by having to repeatedly describe their circumstances.’
Ms Collyer said the AEMC had consulted extensively with the energy sector, family violence organisations, and other sectors that had instituted similar protective policies such as telecommunications and banking.
‘We’ve aimed to cover the greatest possible number of customers with this draft rule, by adopting a broad definition of family relationships to identify family violence and by including business customers as well as residential customers’ she said.
‘Similarly, the AEMC also recommends that the rule’s protections should apply to ‘embedded networks’ such as caravan parks, where there might be a single electricity meter with multiple individual users paying a share of the bill.’
The draft rule requires that when dealing with customers affected by family violence, retailers must:
- have regard firstly to the safety of an affected customer in any dealing they have with them
- not require documentary evidence in order to offer protection
- ensure staff can identify, assist, and engage appropriately and effectively with customers affected by family violence
- adopt and publish a family violence policy
- consider family violence as a potential cause of payment difficulties and hardship
- before taking action to recover arrears or sell debt to a third party, take into account the impact of debt recovery action on an affected customer and whether other people are also liable for the energy usage that led to the arrears
- not disclose confidential information about an affected customer to another person (and must require their contractors and agents not to disclose this information) without the customer’s consent
- take reasonable steps to identify and use a safe method of communicating with customers and then give this preferred method precedence over all other communication requirements in the retail rules
- provide a secure process to minimise the need for customers affected by family violence to repeatedly disclose their experiences.
The draft rule also recommends nine of the new provisions be made Tier 1 Civil Penalty Provisions, making it possible for jurisdictions to impose penalties on retailers who breach those sections.
The initial rule change was requested by Red Energy and Lumo Energy. It follows successful family violence reforms in Victoria, draft reforms in Western Australia, and family violence protections in other essential service sectors including water, banking and telecommunications.
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