Since 2006, under the Electricity Industry Act 2000 and the Gas Industry Act 2001, each electricity and natural gas retailer operating in Victoria must have a hardship policy. This policy should be on the retailer’s website.
The ESC issues guidelines for the development of the retailers’ financial hardship policies and approves the retailers’ policies. Under the guidelines, “a domestic customer is considered to be in financial hardship when they have the intention, but not the capacity to make a payment within the timeframe required by a retailer’s payment terms. Financial hardship can be a short or long term situation.”
A retailer doesn’t have to offer all options covered by its financial hardship policy to all of its customers who are identified, or identify, as being in financial hardship—but it must provide its domestic customers with equitable access to the options appropriate to their individual circumstances.
It’s important to understand that customers themselves are expected to be proactive in contacting retailers for assistance and once accepted into a hardship program to work with the retailer to meet their obligations and therefore ensure continuity of energy supply.
For urban water corporations in Victoria, the obligation to have a hardship policy is in the Essential Services Commission’s Customer Service Code: Metropolitan Retail and Regional Water Businesses.
Among other things, water corporations can’t restrict a customer’s supply for debt, while the customer is making the payments they agreed to. It must also offer the customer a range of payment options and advice on how they can reduce their water usage.