Rule Change: Completed
On 15 September 2022, the Australian Energy Market Commission made a more preferable final rule that amends the National Energy Retail Rules (NERR).
The final rule introduces new measures to protect customers experiencing family violence. They seek to promote certainty and transparency for customers and are proportionate and cost-effective for retailers.
The final rule and determination is in response to a rule change request submitted by Red Energy and Lumo Energy on 23 September 2021.
The key elements of the final rule are that:
- Retailers have a separate family violence policy.
- Retailer staff must understand the nature and consequences of family violence and be able to identify, engage appropriately, and effectively with and assist customers affected by family violence.
- Retailers must provide a secure method to identify affected customers and to minimise the need for customers affected by family violence to repeatedly disclose their experiences.
- Retailers must have regard firstly to the safety of an affected customer and must take into account their personal circumstances in any dealing that they have with that customer.
- Family violence must be considered a likely cause of payment difficulties and hardship.
- Before retailers take action to recover arrears of payment from an affected customer, or sell the debt to a third party, they must take into account: the impact of debt recovery action on an affected customer and whether other people are jointly or severally liable for the energy usage that resulted in the accumulation of arrears.
- Retailers must not disclose confidential information about an affected customer to another person (and must procure their contractors and agents do not disclose this information) without the customer’s consent.
- Retailers must take reasonable steps to identify and use a safe method of communicating with customers. Once identified this preferred method takes precedence over all other communication requirements in the retail rules.
- Customers cannot be required to provide documentary evidence as a precondition for receiving family violence protections.
- Retailers are to refer customers to one or more external family violence support services, at a time and in a manner that is safe, respectful, and appropriate for affected customers’ circumstances.
- A retailer and affected customer are not in breach of the standard or market retail contract if they communicate with each other using that customer’s preferred communication method.
- A retailer’s family violence policy takes precedence over its market retail contract and neither the retailer nor the customer will be in breach of the retail contract for complying with these family violence rules.
The final rule applies to both residential and small business customers. It uses the term "family violence" (for consistency with the Victorian Code) but relies on the South Australian definition of domestic abuse, which provides broad coverage of the types of relationships within which abuse may occur - including where one person is a carer of the other.
The Commission recommends in the final determination that the AER extend protections to affected customers in embedded networks (by means of including those protections as conditions for exempt sellers in the Retail exempt selling guidelines).
The changes will commence on 1 May 2023.
The AEMC received:
- 21 submissions in response to its consultation paper published on 18 November 2021.
- 19 submissions in response to its draft determination published on 16 June 2022.
The consultation documents and submissions can be found below.
Family violence forum
On 15 February 2022, the AEMC held a forum to discuss this rule change and examine family violence reform in other sectors. The forum was attended by more than 80 people.
Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability, homelessness, and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor. Survivors of family violence can be impacted by it for significant parts of their lives. In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that one in four Australian women has experienced violence by a current or previous intimate partner. More recent surveys show the incidence and severity of family violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because they are critical to everyday life, essential services like electricity, gas, water, and communications can be exploited by perpetrators of family violence to control victims, perpetuate psychological abuse, affect their financial security, and potentially cause injury or death.
On 23 September 2021 Red Energy and Lumo Energy submitted a rule change request that recognised that retailers have a role to play in providing targeted, practical assistance and support to customers affected by family violence.
Many of the protections proposed by Red and Lumo are similar to those already in place in Victoria.