As an essential service, the disconnection of electricity can have a devastating impact on you as a customer. Because of this, the National Energy Retail Law is clear that disconnection of electricity for customers in financial hardship, where bills are unpaid, is a last resort (see section 47).
In addition, up until at least 31 July 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no residential customers can be disconnected without their consent where they may be in financial stress.
In this update, we set out the general rules that apply to the disconnection of a residential electricity customer for non-payment.
In Australia, the terms ‘disconnection’ and ‘de-energisation’ are used interchangeably to refer to the altering of a connection to prevent the flow of energy. In Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and South Australia, the rules for disconnection are set out in the National Energy Customer Framework (NECF). Our focus in this update is on the disconnection of electricity (rather than gas) customers.
This update only sets out the rules as they apply in NECF states and territories. Note, however, that the rules for disconnection are similar in all Australia states and territories. Note also, that we are only considering the rules that apply to customers directly connected to the electricity grid. Slightly different rules apply to customers who are based in apartment buildings, shopping malls, caravan parks or retirement villages with private electricity networks in place, otherwise known as ‘embedded networks’.
A disconnection must be distinguished from a planned or unplanned ‘interruption’, which is a temporary stopping of supply to the premises. This may be planned in order to replace a meter or upgrade infrastructure. Or it may be unplanned, such as where supply is stopped due to an extreme weather event.
There is a rigorous process that must be followed in order to disconnect residential customers for non-payment of bills. But before this begins, on your non-payment, if you are a residential customer, you should be offered the opportunity to pay by instalments. If you do not agree to doing so, or you agree but fail to comply with the instalment arrangements, the disconnection process can begin. The amount due must be at least $300.
The disconnection process can proceed as set out in National Energy Retail Rule (‘NERR’) 111:
Even if the process set out above is followed, there are certain situations where a customer cannot be disconnected. These situations, set out in NERR 116, include:
As a residential customer, you can only be disconnected for not paying your bills under strictly limited circumstances, and in accordance with the process set out in the NERR. If you become aware that you are about to be disconnected for non-payment, or you have been disconnected, immediately get in contact with you retailer to sort it out.
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