The Essential Services Commission promotes protections for consumers experiencing vulnerability and supports access to regulated essential services for all Victorian consumers. A key objective of the commission is breaking down the barriers consumers can face when seeking information and assistance.
One role is to facilitate the effective implementation of regulations for the energy industry, which includes support for customers who are having trouble paying their energy bills. The energy payment difficulty framework (the framework) was developed by the commission to reduce these barriers and support residential Victorian customers experiencing vulnerability.
The framework was introduced in 2017 and came into effect on 1 January 2019 through amendments to the Energy Retail Code (now Energy Retail Code of Practice). The framework seeks to reduce the number of customers being disconnected for having energy arrears and does this by protecting and supporting residential customers to help pay their energy bills. The framework entitles Victorian energy customers anticipating or experiencing payment difficulty to minimum levels of assistance. These minimum standards of assistance and the obligations for retailers in providing that assistance, are set out in the code.
The framework was developed to meet the following objectives:
- To help residential customers avoid getting into arrears with their retailer.
- To make it easier for residential customers to pay for their ongoing energy use, repay their arrears when they have missed a bill, and lower their energy costs.
- To ensure residential customers are only disconnected for non-payment of a bill as a measure of last resort.