Energy bill help for people fleeing abuse

·2-min read

Energy regulators have finalised rules to protect customers affected by family violence and financial abuse.

Australian Energy Market Commission chair Anna Collyer said on Thursday perpetrators use the need for utilities such as gas and electricity to control and harm people, including finding them in new locations.

"Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability, homelessness and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor," she said.

The rules are designed to protect customers' physical safety by safeguarding their identities and locations, and help with the financial challenges that come with fleeing a household.

Protections on identity and location also apply to so-called embedded networks such as caravan parks, where there might be a single electricity meter, with many individual users paying a share of a bill.

Ms Collyer said energy retailers can play a significant role, including easier access to hardship arrangements for power bills.

Future financial security and credit worthiness can be affected by partners who control household finances and accounts and incur debts in the target's name.

Energy retailers must train staff to put the safety of the customer first, and develop new processes that reduce the risk of reliving trauma by having to repeatedly describe personal circumstances.

The national co-ordinator of the Economic Abuse Reference Group of community organisations, Carolyn Bond, said it was important victim-survivors of abuse no longer had to provide evidence before they receive assistance.

Ciara Sterling, head of the Thriving Communities Partnership, also welcomed the "no documentation" measure and hoped it would be adopted by other regulators.

"When retailers believe customers and the stories they share, they build greater trust with the people they are assisting and as a consequence reduce barriers to people seeking support," Ms Sterling said.

The commission has worked with the energy sector and family violence organisations. It also looked at how the telecommunications and banking sectors support affected customers.

The rule change takes effect on May 1 next year.

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