By Genevieve Waldie
As the COVID-19 pandemic passes six months duration with no reprieve in sight, both households and businesses continue to be affected in ever-increasing ways.
The Australian Energy Council (representing 22 major electricity providers) says while there are support options available for customers, there is an urgent need for all levels of Government to articulate long term strategies for balancing economics with public health priorities.
“Energy retailers stand ready and willing to help customers experiencing financial difficulties, but there is a critical need for government, regulators and all participants in the energy supply chain to consider what further steps may be needed in coming months,” The Australian Energy Council’s Chief Executive, Sarah McNamara, said.
Ms McNamara detailed financial relief options available to customers.
“Customers should be reminded that their [energy] retailer can provide different kinds of support – from short term payment plans to longer-term hardship assistance.
“Customers should contact their retailer as soon as they become concerned about their ability to pay their bill. There is also a wide range of concessions and emergency relief available for customers receiving JobSeeker and other Government payments.
“Retailers will help customers to access these rebates, and they are providing a range of other measures for customers doing it tough.”
Ms McNamara also warned of the risks and long-term costs that may flow on as a result of these measures of support to the retail energy customer and urged for a combined response from the government.
“We need to be mindful that the Australian Energy Regulator’s Statement of Expectations and these customer support measures mean retailers, who carry all the risks of non-payment in the market, will see increasing debt levels with limited scope to recover costs. We can expect to see increasing bad debt levels, increased financial stress on retailers and a greater risk of retailer failures.
“Retailers cannot control costs from other parts of the energy supply, such as the fixed costs recovered by network businesses to maintain the poles and wires. We need a collaborative response from all parties to find ways to share costs across the sector and avoid the growing risk of future financial contagion amongst retailers.”
“The priority has to be to ensure that retailers can keep assisting as many customers as possible during this pandemic,” Ms McNamara said.