The Essential Services Commission is the energy regulator in Victoria. The commission's principal objective is to protect the interests of all Victorian energy customers. One way the commission does this is by setting the rules that energy businesses operating in Victoria have to follow.
The commission already has a framework of rules in place that require energy retailers to provide support to residential customers who are having difficulty paying their bills. However, as the coronavirus pandemic is such a significant and unprecedented event, the commission has decided to introduce some targeted new rules to help both residential and small business customers pay their bills at this time.
The commission released its final decision on 24 August 2020. Consultation on this project has now closed.
Key facts about the final decision
Residential customers facing a temporary financial crisis can apply for a Utility Relief Grant from the Department of Health and Human Services via their energy retailer. While the commission does not play a direct role in how this grant scheme works, we have issued a guideline to make sure retailers do all they can to help eligible customers apply for a grant.
If customers miss a bill due date and have more than $55 of debt their retailer must offer them support known as tailored assistance. The commission’s new rule will require retailers to conduct a tariff check for all customers who receive tailored assistance to let the customer know if there is a better tariff for them. This is a temporary rule that will take effect for six months from 1 October 2020.
The payment difficulty rules provide a range of payment assistance measure for residential customers. However, we know that the pandemic has put additional financial stress on some Victorian small businesses, particularly those impacted by lockdown restrictions.
The commission has introduced a guideline that requires retailers to provide reasonable assistance to small businesses experiencing financial stress due to the coronavirus pandemic. This assistance could include flexibility in small businesses paying their energy bills, payment plans to repay debt developed during the pandemic, or assistance to lower ongoing energy costs. This is a temporary guideline that takes effect for six months from 1 October 2020.
How we engaged
The commission published a draft decision on proposed rule changes on 30 June 2020. We consulted on these proposals until 14 July 2020. During this time we also held three workshops with stakeholders to hear views on our proposals.
Based on the feedback received during this consultation period, we published our final decision on 24 August 2020.
What we did with your feedback
The commission received 20 written submissions to the draft decision, and 10 submissions from consumers through Engage Victoria. These are available on our website. We took stakeholder feedback on board in reaching our final decision.
The feedback we received during the consultation period led to some changes to our proposals to support small businesses. Our final rule change gives more flexibility for retailers to provide payment assistance that is reasonable and takes into account the particular circumstances of their small business customers.
Consultation on this project has now closed.
Stakeholder workshops materials
Proposals to support small business customers workshop - 6 July 2020
Proposals to support residential customers workshop - 7 July 2020
Supporting the implementation of the network relief package workshop - 8 July 2020
The Essential Services Commission is an independent regulator that promotes the long term interests of Victorian consumers with respect to the price, quality and reliability of essential services. We regulate Victoria’s energy, water and transport sectors, and administer the local government Fair Go Rates system.