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The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and the Australia and New Zealand Energy and Water Ombudsman Network (ANZEWON) are working collaboratively to consider what changes need to be made to the regulation of exempt sellers/exempt network service providers and scheme membership and participation requirements respectively to improve exempt customer access to energy ombudsman schemes where it is required.
The AER has published this issues paper seeking stakeholders' views to inform our position on this issue.
Under the National Energy Retail Law (Retail Law), small customers of authorised retailers and distributors have access to free and independent dispute resolution provided by their state or territory's energy ombudsman, or tribunal in the ACT.
However, small customers of exempt energy sellers and exempt network service providers (exempt NSPs) are generally unable to access such dispute resolution services. Currently, the ombudsman schemes, with the exception of NSW, cannot hear complaints from exempt customers. This is because they preclude membership by exempt entities or explicitly preclude the consideration of complaints by customers of exempt entities. Where access for exempt customers is currently available, the NSW ombudsman is unable to bind exempt entities by their decisions because exempt entities are not members of the scheme.
The significant growth of embedded networks, alternative selling models and other forms of exempt sales is leading to an increased number of customers without recourse to free and independent dispute resolution services.
We recognise the significant role of ombudsman schemes in building consumer trust and confidence in the retail energy market by providing industry expert dispute resolution services for energy issues. To this end, we are working collaboratively with the Australia and New Zealand Energy and Water Ombudsman Network (ANZEWON) to consider what changes need to be made to the regulation of exempt sellers/NSPs and scheme membership and participation requirements respectively in order to improve exempt customer access to ombudsman schemes where it is required. This issues paper is the first step in formally seeking stakeholder views to inform our position on this issue. We have undertaken some preliminary information gathering with a smaller group of stakeholders to assist in reaching this point.
Recognising that the exempt seller and exempt NSP are often the same entity, in this issues paper we use the term 'exempt entity' to collectively refer to the entity holding either/both the retail and network exemptions, where we are not seeking to distinguish between two functions. However, where necessary we distinguish between the selling and network service provision functions of the exempt entity by referring to the exempt seller/exempt NSP respectively.
We are now seeking submissions from interested stakeholders on the issues paper by Friday 14 July 2017.