If you or your client have received a disconnection notice, it is important to contact the retailer straight away. Retailers must offer payment plans to customers who are experiencing payment difficulties, unless they have already breached two instalment plans in the past 12 months. If a payment plan is not sufficient to manage outstanding bills, retailers may also offer hardship programs or assist with an application for Home Energy Emergency Assistance. For more information see the can't pay an electricity or gas bill page.
What retailers must do
It is also useful to be aware of the procedures that an electricity retailer must follow prior to disconnecting a customer, under the National Energy Customer Framework.
Where a customer has been unable to pay a bill due to insufficient income, a retailer must use their best endeavours to contact the customer by telephone, mail, fax, or email, and offer alternative payment options and information on concessions, rebates or grants to which the customer may be entitled.
Prior to arranging for disconnection, the retailer must:
- Send the customer a reminder notice.
- After the due date stated in the reminder notice, provide a written disconnection warning giving notice of at least five business days from the date of issue of the warning, of their intention to disconnect. The disconnection warning should also include contact details for the Energy Ombudsman Queensland.
It should be noted that if the customer has received a reminder notice for two consecutive electricity bills or three consecutive dual fuel bills, or two consecutive disconnection warnings, their retailer may place them on a shortened collection cycle. This means that the retailer is not required to give the customer a reminder notice prior to issuing a disconnection warning until they have paid three consecutive bills by the due date. However the retailer’s other obligations with respect to disconnection still apply.
If the customer has not taken steps to rectify the reason for disconnection, or has not accepted an offer of an alternative payment option or taken reasonable steps towards settling the debt before the end of the warning period, the retailer may arrange for their electricity supply to be disconnected. There are, however, some circumstances when they must not arrange disconnection. The Queensland Electricity Industry Code prohibits a retailer from arranging disconnection:
- For non-payment of an outstanding balance which is less than a threshold amount (currently $300), where the customer has agreed to repay the outstanding amount.
- At particular times, including on a Friday, weekend, public holiday or the day before a public holiday, between 20 and 31 December, and before 8:00am or after 3:00pm on a business day.
- Where the retailer has been provided with confirmation from a medical practitioner or hospital that a person residing at the premises is dependent on life support equipment.
- When the customer has an application for assistance from agencies administering relevant concessions, rebates and grants under consideration.
- When the customer has an unresolved complaint lodged with the Energy Ombudsman or another dispute resolution body, which is directly related to the reason for disconnection.
- For non-payment of charges relating to goods and services other than the sale of electricity to the premises.
Retailers may also arrange for disconnection of electricity if the customer has not allowed access to their meter for three consecutive scheduled meter readings, has used electricity illegally, has refused to pay a security deposit, or has refused or failed to provide acceptable identification when requested by the retailer. Except for circumstances where electricity has been consumed illegally, the retailer is required to provide a written warning giving at least five business days notice of disconnection.
If a customer’s electricity is disconnected and the required disconnection procedure has not been followed, they may be eligible for a payment for wrongful disconnection under the guaranteed service levels (GSL) provisions of the Electricity Code.
Disconnection procedures for gas customers
The Gas Industry Code does not contain provisions relating to customers experiencing payment difficulties. A retailer may disconnect a customer if they have failed to pay a bill or make a payment in accordance with an instalment plan or payment option they have agreed to, provide a security deposit required under their retail contract, make reasonable advance payments requested by the retailer, provide acceptable identification when requested by the retailer, or have failed to allow access to their premises for three consecutive scheduled meter readings.
Before disconnecting gas services the retailer is required to give at least two disconnection warnings. The first warning must be given at least 10 business days before the date on which the disconnection is expected to occur, and the two warnings must be given at least one week apart. The warning notices must also state the grounds for disconnection, the day on which the retailer will request disconnection or the day the customer will be disconnected, and that the customer may refer a dispute to the Energy Ombudsman.
There is no guaranteed service level scheme for gas.
Disconnection of customers with dual fuel contracts
Where a customer is supplied with both electricity and gas by the same retailer and is billed at the same time for both services, the Electricity Industry Code allows the retailer to disconnect gas supply in accordance with the dual fuel contract, and requires that electricity is then only disconnected if the customer has refused or failed to take reasonable action towards settling their outstanding account 15 business days after the gas was disconnected.