Financial counsellors welcome inquiry into VIC energy retailer hardship programs

Financial counsellors in Victoria welcome the Minister for Energy‘s announcement that there will be an inquiry into the cost of energy in Victoria.

The Essential Services Commission has recorded the highest rate of disconnections from gas and electricity, more than 58,000 disconnections last year.  Financial counsellors are also seeing an increase in clients experiencing hardship and struggling to meet utility payments, or coping with living without.

FCRC Acting Executive Officer, Bernadette Pasco said, “There are laws and Codes of Practice that protect consumers, but many people do not know that these protections exits. Financial counsellors frequently need to assist consumers to apply for a wrongful disconnection payment, which consumers are entitled to if their energy has been disconnected without proper processes and under certain circumstances.

“Retailers should know the rules; financial counselling sector welcomes this timely inquiry.

“Many retailers have the opinion that people should simply use less. People on consistently low incomes frequently do not use more energy, it’s just that the cost has increased a lot more than their income; this applies particularly to those on fixed incomes such as Disability Support Pension or other Centrelink benefits.” said Ms Pasco.

In 2014 the Financial and Consumer Rights Council (FCRC), peak body for financial counsellors in Victoria, undertook a project to investigate the way that hardship programs operated for consumers. This work was a direct result of financial counsellors dealing with escalating disconnections and evidence that people who should be able to call and energy company and navigate a process to support financial difficulty themselves, found this an impossible task.

FCRC launched the ‘Rank the Energy Retailer’ report in 2014, which exposed the poor hardship processes of several major retailers. This report has resulted in some energy retailers starting to have a conversation with the financial counselling sector about how they can do this better.

FCRC welcomes Lily d’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy’s stance.  She has said that, “The number of consumers being disconnected is too high and we need to make sure energy companies have best practice hardship programs in place to help those who are struggling with their bills.”

Financial counsellors are professionals who work with people in financial hardship, and advocate for those who find systems a barrier to having their rights met, are increasingly appalled at the hardship processes of energy retailers and the lack of understanding of the things that impact on a client’s capacity to pay.

The “Rank the Energy Retailer” report can be read here: