New rules have been drafted to protect energy customers who are fleeing violence.
“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,” Australian Energy Market Commission chair Anna Collyer said.
Snowy Hydro’s energy retailers Red Energy and Lumo Energy requested the change to the National Energy Retail Rules last year, to increase protections for consumers no matter where they live.
“We’ve aimed to cover the greatest possible number of small customers with this draft rule,” Ms Collyer said.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
“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.”
The draft released on Thursday for feedback follows reforms in Victoria, draft changes in Western Australia, and family violence protections in other essential services including water, banking and telecommunications.
Future financial security and credit worthiness can be affected by partners who control household finances and accounts and incur debts in the target’s name.
A conservative estimate is that economic abuse occurs in half of family violence cases, the regulator said.
Energy retailers have some policies in place for customers affected by sexual assault or domestic and family violence but a better understanding through clear rules should help companies and survivors.
Retailers are urged to safeguard identities and locations, and consider the impact and fairness of debt collection for unpaid bills.
The regulator also recommends the protections should extend to “embedded networks” such as caravan parks, where a single electricity meter may have many users paying a share of a bill.
DRAFT REQUIREMENTS FOR ENERGY RETAILERS:
*Put the safety of an affected customer first.
*Do not require documentary evidence in order to offer protection.
*Train staff to identify, assist, and engage appropriately and effectively.
*Adopt and publish a family violence policy.
*Consider family violence as a potential cause of payment difficulties and hardship.
*Take into account the impact of debt recovery action and whether others are also liable for the energy usage that led to the arrears.
*Do not disclose confidential information, and require contractors and agents to also comply.
*Take reasonable steps to identify and use a safe method of communicating with customers.
*Provide a secure process to minimise the need for customers to repeatedly disclose their experiences.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Lifeline 13 11 14