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Amend the Energy Retail Code and Customer Service Code to include family violence hardship provisions

Recommendation 109 - In Progress

The Victorian Government work with the Essential Services Commission to:

  • amend the Energy Retail Code and Customer Service Code—Urban Water Businesses to:
  • list minimum eligibility criteria for access to hardship programs
  • include family violence as an explicit eligibility criterion
  • develop industry guidelines for energy and water retailers to require comprehensive and ongoing training of customer service staff to help them identify customers experiencing family violence and financial hardship
  • publicise the availability of dispute resolution mechanisms for people affected by family violence.

What we are doing

The Essential Services Commission is being engaged to:

  • Amend the Energy Retail and Customer Service Codes within 12 months to ensure all customers having difficulty paying their bills can access assistance.
  • Develop industry guidelines for energy and water retailers to ensure staff are trained in identifying economic abuse.
  • Work with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria to develop better ways to publicise dispute resolution mechanisms.

A number of additional actions are being developed to address economic abuse, including:

  • Introducing family violence policies within the Essential Services Commission and water retailers.
  • Undertaking sector-wide education and training on economic abuse.
  • Developing tailored approaches to combatting economic abuse in regional, culturally and linguistically diverse and Aboriginal communities.

Where we are up to

The Victorian Government has worked with the Essential Services Commission (ESC) throughout 2016 and 2017 to ensure that relevant codes and guidelines are developed and promoted to support victims of economic abuse.

For the water sector

The ESC finalised the amendments of its Customer Service Code for Victorian Urban Water Businesses to require them to implement family violence policies.

The code changes will require water businesses to develop and implement family violence policies that, as a minimum, address:

  • implementing training and support for frontline staff dealing with customers affected by family violence
  • preventing the disclosure of private and confidential customer information to perpetrators
  • enabling customers to access existing payment difficulty programs provided by businesses
  • minimising the need for customers to repeatedly tell their story to multiple staff
  • referring customers to appropriate support services.

For the energy sector

The commission is implementing recommendation 109, as it relates to the energy sector, in two phases:

  • phase one: establishing a new payment difficulty framework , which makes explicit provision for a family violence guideline for the energy sector
  • phase two: developing a family violence guideline for the energy sector in consultation with the community.

Phase one has been completed, following an extensive and iterative two year engagement process with the Victorian community. [This new payment difficulty framework commences on 1 January 2019.]

Phase two will commence in 2018, and will be completed by June 2019.

The final element of Recommendation 109 was for the commission to publicise the availability of dispute resolution mechanisms for people affected by family violence.

  • Customer service codes require energy and water businesses to Notify customers of the availability of assistance via the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria).
  • The ESC website refers consumers to the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria for compliant resolution and makes known that water businesses offer support to customers experiencing family violence or payment difficulty.

Timeframe

Forecast implementation date: 30 June 2019.

This information is accurate as at 1 May 2018.

Who is leading the change

Department of Treasury and Finance