As households and businesses continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, energy retailers say a broader government and energy sector consideration is needed.
The Australian Energy Council’s Chief Executive, Sarah McNamara, said: “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.
“Retailers can help when households and businesses are having trouble paying their bills. Our members have committed to supporting their customers with tailored assistance if they are unable to afford their energy bills.
“Customers should be reminded that their 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. Engagement will ensure customers are not disconnected for not being able to afford their energy bills.
“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.
“But 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.
“A network package to defer charges announced earlier this year provided some initial relief but it was limited in time and scope. That relief package was also released before the full impact of COVID-19 on households and businesses emerged.
“For that reason, 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.
About the Australian Energy Council
The Council represents 22 major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses operating in competitive wholesale and retail energy markets. These businesses collectively generate the overwhelming majority of electricity in Australia and sell gas and electricity to over 10 million homes and businesses.
The Australian Energy Council welcomes the release of the Energy Security Board's advice to Energy Ministers, and in particular its call for coordination and a common approach by jurisdictions but notes there is still much work to be done on the detail.
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