The National Energy Customer Framework (customer framework), was implemented on 1 July 2013, is made up of a number of national laws regulating the retailing and distribution of electricity and gas. The new laws moved the regulation of the sale and supply of energy from a state-based framework to national regulation.
Beginning an energy contract
Types of energy contracts in NSW
There are three types of energy contracts available in NSW:
- regulated contract
- standard retail contract
- market retail contract.
If you are unsure which type of energy contract you are on, check with your energy retailer.
Currently, all gas customers in NSW are entitled to have their gas supplied at regulated prices. The NSW Government has committed to extending regulation of retail gas prices until at least 30 June 2017 (the current regulatory periods finishes on 30 June 2016). If retail gas price regulation is removed, you will no longer be able to sign up for a regulated contract. There is more information on this below.
Regulated offer retailers are allocated specific districts across NSW. Regulated offer retailers only offer regulated prices in their allocated districts.
For example, if your home is located in Origin Energy's regulated district, you will not be able to access a regulated offer from AGL.
The terms and conditions of the regulated offer contract are set out in legislation and cannot be changed by retailers.
Regulated gas prices are agreed to by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) and each individual regulated offer retailer, generally on 1 July each year. Read more about how IPART sets gas prices.
Standard retail contract
Standard retail contracts are offered by all electricity and gas retailers and the model terms and conditions are set by law.
If you have not signed up to a market contract, your energy will be supplied under a standard retail contract. This contract has no exit fees and you can change to a different contract at any time.
The prices under standard retail contracts are set by the retailers themselves, but can only be changed once every 6 months.
Market retail contract
All energy retailers can offer to supply your energy at market prices under a market offer contract. Even a regulated offer retailer can offer a market offer contract. Market retail contracts are negotiated between the retailer and the customer and include minimum terms and conditions set by law, and terms and conditions set by the retailer. If the terms and conditions permit it, the retailer can change the price during the term of the contract.
Deregulating retail gas prices
The NSW Government is looking to deregulate retail gas prices from 1 July 2017 if certain conditions are met. This includes an increase in the level of competitive offers available to customers in regional NSW.
Removing retail gas price regulation will promote greater competition in the market, encourage more retailers to operate in NSW and offer better gas deals. Nearly 80 percent of households and small businesses have already moved off the regulated price and onto a market or standard contract. Households and small businesses can continue to buy gas under standard contracts and market contracts whether or not retail gas price regulation is removed.
Removing price regulation will promote greater competition in the gas market and encourage more retailers to operate in NSW and offer a range of energy deals.
Read more about the removal of retail gas price regulation.
Choosing an energy retailer
As part of the customer framework, a free independent energy comparison service has been launched which quickly compares current electricity and gas contracts available in NSW to help you find the best deal. You can access the service online by visiting the Australian Government's Energy Made Easy website or by calling 1300 585 165.
Click here for more information on what you need to know before you sign up to an energy contract.
Door to door and telephone marketing
Any person selling you an energy contract must provide you with an Energy Price Fact Sheet, which sets out when the contract is to begin, prices and any fees included in the contract, payment arrangements, information about your rights concerning making a complaint and who to contact, and information about the cooling off period.
In addition, if a salesperson contacts you, they must tell you who they are and why they are contacting you.
If the contact is in person, they must show you identification and leave your home or property if you ask them to.
If you sign up to a new energy contract, the salesperson must give you a written copy of the sales agreement, inform you of your right to cancel the contract and the steps to do this, and not ask you to waive your right to cancel within the cooling off period.
Salespeople for energy retailers cannot force or pressure you into signing up to an energy contract or to buy services you are not interested in.
You can also ask to be placed on any energy retailer's 'do not contact' list which means they cannot contact you by email or in person at your home for the purpose of selling products.
If you do not want to be contacted by door to door salespeople, you can also display a 'do not knock' sticker.
If you do not wish to be contacted by telephone salespeople, you can add your telephone number(s) to the Australian Communications and Media Authority's 'Do not call' register.
If you think a salesperson who has contacted you has not met their legal requirements, try to remember any details provided (e.g. name) and the energy retailer they represent and contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Infocentre on 1300 302 502. For more information see Know your rights when a salesperson knocks.
Retirement villages, residential parks and shopping centres
If you purchase energy from your landlord, rather than direct from a retailer, for example, if you are a tenant at a shopping centre, residential park or in a retirement village, this is called 'on selling' and you will still have the rights and protections under the customer framework.
If you are a residential or business tenant, you may also have energy related rights and obligations under your tenancy agreement.
If you are a residential customer, your consumer protections will also include:
- flexible payment options if you are experiencing financial difficulty
- clear and set time frames for receiving and paying your energy bills
- complaints handling arrangements
- price protections
- clear and reasonable disconnection procedures.
Your customer protections as a small business customer will also include:
- clear and set time frames for receiving and paying your energy bills
- complaints handling arrangements
- price protections
- clear and reasonable disconnection procedures.
Under the customer framework, all on selling operations are regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator. For more information, contact the Australian Energy Regulator by calling 1300 585 165, or go to www.aer.gov.au.
During your energy contract
Information on your bill
Under the customer framework, all energy retailers are required to show information on your electricity bill that compares your use with other households in your area. If your consumption is higher than average, there may be opportunities to save energy in your home. This information will not appear on your gas bill.
Energy meter readings
Can my retailer estimate my meter reading?
Under the customer framework your retailer must read your property's meter at least once every 12 months. If your retailer cannot access your meter (due to a locked gate, a dog in your yard etc.) your retailer can estimate your bill based in your previous energy consumption and issue you with a bill.
If your retailer estimates your bill, they must clearly state on your bill that the bill is an estimate.
In some cases, your retailer may accept a meter reading you have taken yourself.
What if I think the bill is wrong?
If you feel the estimate is wrong you can ask the retailer for a special reading for which they may charge you a fee. A special reading is where you make an appointment with your retailer to read your meter outside the usual cycle. If the estimated amount is found to be too high, the retailer should not charge you a special reading fee. A retailer can only make an estimated reading for three consecutive bills. After this time, they must take an actual reading of your meter.
What if I have been overcharged?
If the estimated reading is too high and you have been overcharged an amount less than $50, your retailer must credit this amount to your next bill. If you have been overcharged more than $50, you can ask the retailer to refund this amount to you instead. In some cases, your retailer may accept a meter reading you have taken yourself.
What if I have been undercharged?
If an estimated meter reading is found to be too low and you have been undercharged for your energy use, your retailer can request that you pay the undercharged amount in the following circumstances:
- Where the retailer has caused the problem (such as computer system errors, incorrect calculation of your bill etc.), they can only request that you pay the undercharged amount for the 9 month period before you were informed of the error.
- Where you have caused the error, such as failing to provide appropriate access to your meter, your retailer can request that you pay the full undercharged amount.
- Where your retailer has made the error and you have request an extension, your retailer must give you time to pay the undercharged amount. For example, if you were undercharged over a 12 month period, your retailer must give you 12 months to pay the undercharged amount.
- The retailer must provide you with all the information that would normally appear on your bill. Including:
- the period the bill covers
- the tariffs and charges applicable during the period you were undercharged
- the amount of energy you used in the period for which you were undercharged and each applied tariff and charge.
What if I'm having trouble paying my bill?
The customer framework introduces a legal obligation on energy retailers to support customers who are experiencing financial difficulties and are unable to pay their energy bills.
As a minimum, if you inform your energy retailer you are experiencing financial difficulties; your retailer must offer you a payment plan to make the bill payments more manageable.
The retailer may also offer further assistance if you are a hardship customer including:
- flexible payment options, for example payment plans and Centrepay
- help to access other support services such as concessions and financial counselling
- advice about saving energy in the home.
If you are a hardship customer or a residential customer on a payment plan because you are experiencing financial difficulties, and you are meeting the terms of the plan, you cannot be disconnected.
You may also be eligible for an energy rebate. Read more about rebates and eligibility.
Can my energy retailer charge me a late payment fee?
Yes, customers can be charged a reasonable late payment fee if they don't pay their energy bill by the due date, however the customer framework includes some protections for customers which mean a late payment fee cannot be charged in the following circumstances:
- Your contract is for electricity or dual fuel and you receive the Low Income Household Rebate or the Medical Energy Rebate.
- Your late bill or another bill under your contract is the subject of a matter being considered by the NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWON).
- Your late bill is subject to arrangements to payment by installments under a payment plan.
- If any part of the previous bill is paid by an Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) Scheme voucher.
- The retailer is aware that the customer has sought assistance to pay the bill from a community welfare organisation that issues EAPA vouchers.
A reasonable late payment fee is one that covers the reasonable expenses incurred by your retailer as a result of your late payment. The fee is usually made up of administrative costs such as sending you a reminder notice and amendments to your account.
Disconnection of your service
When can my retailer disconnect my service?
Under the customer framework, your energy retailer can disconnect your service in the following circumstances:
- you have not paid an overdue bill
- you have not paid a security deposit and it is a term of your contract that you do so
- you have moved into a new property and failed to open a new account with the energy company
- you miss a payment or are late making a payment on your payment plan
- your payment plan is cancelled
- the electrical wiring or gas pipes on or to your property is unsafe.
Before your energy company can disconnect your service for an unpaid bill, they must first take the following steps:
- Issue you with two written notices; a reminder notice and then no less than 6 days later, a warning notice. The notices must include:
- what financial assistance may be available to you (payment plans, EAPA vouchers)
- information about your rights
- the reason for the disconnection
- what date your energy will be disconnected.
- After issuing the second notice, they must take reasonable steps to contact you by phone, email, fax, or in person, to offer you a payment plan or to give you the opportunity to make a payment.
- Offer you the option of a reasonable payment plan in writing if you are having difficulty paying your bill. The payment plan must be based on your financial capacity, how much is owed and the amount of energy you continue to use.
If your energy retailer has disconnected your service after following the steps above, you may have to pay fees for disconnection and reconnection. The fee amounts are set by the Australian Energy Regulator.
When is my energy retailer unable to disconnect my service?
Your energy retailer cannot disconnect your service for non-payment of your bill, in the following circumstances:
- You have informed your electricity retailer that you or someone in your house requires a life support machine as listed below, that runs on electricity:
- chronic positive airways pressure respirator
- Crigler najjar syndrome phototherapy equipment
- intermittent peritoneal dialysis machine
- kidney dialysis machine
- oxygen concentrator
- ventilator for life support
- any other equipment for the purpose of life support which a registered medical practitioner certifies is required for a person residing at your premises
- On Friday, Saturday, Sunday, a public holiday or any day before a public holiday, or after 3pm any other day.
- You have agreed to a payment plan for a bill that is less than $300.
- You have an appointment with a community agency about EAPA (Energy Accounts Payment Assistance) vouchers, and you have advised your retailer of this appointment.
Read more about disconnection and reconnection of an energy service.
Ending your energy contract
Switching energy retailers can help customers save money on their energy bills.
Before moving retailers or switching contracts, customers should first shop around and compare contracts to ensure they choose the best option for their energy needs. Customers are encouraged to visit the Australian Energy Regulator's Energy Made Easy website at www.energymadeeasy.com.au
Customers wishing to change contracts or retailers may be required to pay an early exit fee if they have a market retail contract with their current energy provider.
Early exit fees
There are a number of reasons a customer may need to end a contract early. In some circumstances, a retailer may charge an early exit fee to recover their costs. Whether an early exit fee applies, depends on what type of contract you have with your energy retailer.
There are three types of energy contracts offered by retailers; a Regulated contract (gas prices are regulated in NSW), a Standard Retail Contract and a Market Retail Contract.
A standard retail contract and a regulated contract have no fixed conditions and does not specify an end date. These types cannot include early exit fees . Customers can terminate a standard retail contract and a regulated contract by providing notice to their retailer that they wish to end the contract.
A market retail contract may specify a contract end date or a fixed benefit period and includes a number of terms and conditions.
Where a customer terminates a market retail contract before the fixed term or before the fixed benefit period expires, an early exit fee may apply however, the customer framework protects customers from having to pay an unreasonable early exit fee.
Your retailer can only ask you to pay an early exit fee if:
- your contract is a market retail contract
- your market retail contract includes a term that an early exit fee may be payable
- your market retail contract includes information about when you will be charged an early exit fee
- you are not a hardship customer.
Customers who are experiencing difficulty dealing with their retailer can contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON), which is a free, independent service available to help resolve disputes.
EWON has been approved by the Government as an independent way of helping customers resolve disputes with energy providers where internal dispute resolution procedures have failed. For more information you can contact EWON on freecall 1800 246 545 or visit www.ewon.com.au
Policy development of the NECF
Background information on the development and implementation of the NECF in NSW can be found in the papers below:
- NSW Regulations – Policy document, December 2012 [pdf]
- NSW Implementation Transitional Arrangements February 2012 [pdf]
- NSW Implementation - National Energy Customer Framework, September 2011 [pdf]
- NSW Implementation of the National Energy Customer Framework - Policy Paper for Consultation, September 2010 [pdf]