The Delta strain of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the country, causing lockdowns and continued financial strain on the economy. The most recent COVID-19 Customer Vulnerability Research by a consortium of Energy Charter signatories was conducted in September 2021 and shows 35% of regional NSW stated that their energy bill spend has increased in the last three months.
As the electricity distributor for 95% of NSW and parts of southern Queensland, Essential Energy received around 1,750 requests from electricity retailers to disconnect homes and small businesses for non-payment every month prior to COVID-19. The impact of disconnection to customers is obviously extremely distressing and costly to restore their power, and the process itself is inefficient to retailers.
Essential Energy engaged with a range of retailers to improve our processes when disconnecting a customer’s premises to allow us to attempt to hand-deliver an advanced disconnection notice. The purpose of this visit is to personally encourage the customer to get in touch with their retailer to make arrangements that could lead to the disconnection being avoided.
Following a successful trial in 2020, the process was implemented as a regular activity and both our employees and meter reading partner have been supported with additional customer training.
Earlier this year, we worked with the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW and the Public Interest Advocacy Center (PIAC) to develop a flyer that is also delivered to customers facing disconnection.
The flyer outlines a range of assistance for customers in vulnerable circumstances and encourages them to contact their electricity retailer in the first instance to arrange for help and prevent disconnection.
Anecdotally the experience for both customers and our meter reading partners is much improved, and overall, the program has been successful in achieving its goal of encouraging customers in vulnerable circumstances to contact their retailers. The pilot and implementation have been delivered with a strong customer focus as well as a health and wellbeing focus for employees and contractors.
As the program continues, Essential Energy will review and refine. With 20% of customers receiving more than one disconnection notice per annum, there is a strong need for this service to help ensure people have access to the support they need to stay connected.