The legal bits

Customer Payment Difficulty Policy (VIC)

UPDATED ON: 20.08.2020

  • 1 Introduction

  • OVO Energy maintains a Customer Payment Difficulty Program (‘CPDF’), described in this policy (‘CPDF Policy’). Broadly, this CPDF Policy sets out key principles to guide staff in interactions with customers and their representatives. It also sets out the steps we will take to identify and manage hardship.

  • The purpose of this policy is to identify residential customers experiencing payment difficulties due to hardship and to assist those customers to better manage their energy bills on an ongoing basis.

  • For customers who are currently experiencing financial hardship or anticipating financial difficulty OVO Energy will offer a range of services to help manage their energy usage as well as payments.

  • This policy will be updated every six (6) months or as necessary, with reference to the guiding documents, to reflect the rules and regulations as they apply to the needs of our customers.

  • Any amendments to this policy will be approved by the Essential Services Commission and published on the OVO Energy website no later than seven (7) days after the approval has been received.

  • The following principles underline this policy:

    • (a) Energy is an essential service and this company values the fact that customers trust it to supply energy as a retailer;

    • (b) Customers are the ultimate stakeholders and OVO Energy intends to tailor its service to their needs and circumstances;

    • (c) OVO Energy will continually seek ways to be of assistance to all customers in terms of services, expertise and connections;

    • (d) Customers will be dealt with respectfully, fairly and with understanding.

    • (e) Customers in hardship will be encouraged to seek assistance from our staff; and

    • (f) Customers participating in the OVO Energy CPDF will not be disconnected.

  • This policy statement sets out a number of rights customers have under the Energy Retail Code.

  • In respecting customer rights, OVO Energy will:

    • (a) Notify customers of the OVO Energy CPDF immediately when a customer misses a bill due date as well as if a customer is owing $55 or more (inc GST). OVO Energy will assist customers with information on tailored assistance and how to access it. This will be done within 21 business days;

    • (b) Put a hold on any external collections or debt recovery action for customers in the CPDF;

    • (c) Follow the CPDF Policy in managing customer accounts;

    • (d) Work with customers in the CPDF and financial counsellors or other advisors assisting them to manage their accounts effectively; and

    • (e) Work with customers in the CPDF to reduce their energy use.

  • Identification and initial response

  • The ability for staff to recognise financial hardship, and to respond as early as possible, is central to this policy. Staff training will be geared to:

    • (a) Identifying customers in potential financial difficulty;

    • (b) Training staff on issues to do with financial difficulty;

    • (c) Knowing about referral processes and protocols; and

    • (d) Training in communication to ensure staff take an empathetic, respectful and non-judgmental approach.

  • Hardship or financial difficulty is a circumstance that a customer may face when he or she is not able to make a payment within the time frame required.

  • A variety of circumstances can give rise to hardship including, but not limited to: loss of employment, increased cost of living, personal loss, natural disaster and temporary or permanent disability.

  • In accordance with this policy, customers experiencing hardship may contact OVO Energy using the following details to discuss the CPDF Policy and its relevance to their situation, and to discuss difficulties with payment or the status of their accounts:

  • Self-identification will be made as easy as possible by providing a variety of communication channels and assisting customers throughout the process in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.

  • Identification by staff will also be done in a supportive and non-judgmental manner, with the intention of helping the customer in difficulty while avoiding embarrassment.

  • The CPDF will be promoted to customers showing any indication of hardship, on all reminder notices and disconnection notices, as well as over the phone.

  • The CPDF Policy will also be promoted via our website.

  • Indicators of Hardship

  • A range of indicators will be reviewed to determine whether a customer is experiencing hardship.

  • Factors evident from the customer's account, including the following:

    • (a) Self-identification;

    • (b) A history of late or missed payments;

    • (c) A sudden change in payment patterns;

    • (d) A need for extensions on payments due;

    • (e) An outstanding debt;

    • (f) Eligibility for emergency energy assistance, including Utility Relief Grant Scheme (URGS);

    • (g) Eligibility for concessions, government pensions, payments or rebates.

  • Environmental circumstances, including the following:

    • (a) Occurrence of natural disasters;

    • (b) Economic downturn.

  • Personal circumstances, including the following:

    • (a) Loss or change in employment;

    • (b) Increased cost of living;

    • (c) Personal loss;

    • (d) Other debts;

    • (e) Addiction;

    • (f) Temporary or permanent disability.

  • 3 Early Identification

  • The Customer Enquiries and CPDF Team will endeavour to identify hardship as early as possible.

  • They will monitor accounts and look for early indicators, which may include any of those listed above.

  • Accounts will be searched for evidence of sudden changes of payment pattern or accumulation of debt.

  • Extensive system and process support to identify customers who are potentially experiencing hardship will be implemented.

  • The Customer Enquiries and CPDF Team will attempt to contact customers believed to be experiencing hardship.

  • 4 Your responsibilities

  • It’s your responsibility to work with us to help you and agree on the following:

    • (a) Demonstrate a willingness to pay for your energy usage;

    • (b) To pay the amounts set out in the payment schedule in full and on time;

    • (c) To tell us if there is any change in circumstances that will impact ability to pay;

    • (d) Inform us if your details have changed so that we can update our records;

    • (e) Ensure that you are available to discuss your payment plan and usage details at regular intervals (which we will communicate with you);

    • (f) To work with us to lower your energy usage and take appropriate steps to not accumulate additional debt; and

    • (g) Contact us immediately if you are unable to meet any of your commitments; and

  • 5 Standard assistance

  • Under the new Payment Difficulty Framework implemented for Victorian residential customers in January 2019, there is a range of assistance now available if you are experiencing difficulties paying your energy bills.

  • Standard assistance will be available to all residential customers to avoid accruing arrears on their energy accounts. This includes:

    • (a) Payment arrangements that allow customers to pay a set amount;

    • (b) Make a regular payment of an equal amount on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis;

    • (c) Extend the due date for one of your bills at least once a year; and

    • (d) Customers will be able to make payments in advance.

  • 6 Tailored assistance (minimum assistance)

  • This level of assistance is designed for customers who are in financial hardship or who have an outstanding amount greater than $55 (inc GST). This assistance will include practical advice and assistance to make it easier to pay the arrears as well as control ongoing usage and therefore bill amounts.

  • If you have not paid your bill by the due date and contact us you are entitled to information about the assistance to which you are entitled under this policy and how to access it.

  • If you have missed your bill’s due date, and are in arrears of more than $55 (inc GST) we will contact you within 21 business days of your bill falling overdue to see how we can help.

  • You will have at least 6 days to respond to the options we have provided and to work out the right assistance for you.

  • OVO Energy can provide the following:

    • (a) An estimate of future costs of your usage and advice on how to reduce it;

    • (b) Advice from us about payment options that would enable you to repay your arrears over not more than two (2) years;

    • (c) Practical advice to help lower your energy costs, including recommendations on the right plan for your circumstance - taking into account your usage history (if available);

    • (d) Energy saving tips and information on how you are tracking in reducing your costs;

    • (e) OVO Energy or one of our partners may be able to help with flexible payment options for the replacement of an existing appliance, such as heating and cooling;

    • (f) Other assistance that is available such as accessing energy concessions and government and non-government support such as Utility Relief Grant and concession rebates. You can find the full details of this assistance on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website;

    • (g) If you are not able to pay for all of your ongoing usage charges, we can put on hold the payment of your debt for six (6) months during which time you can pay less than your ongoing usage cost while you work towards lowering your energy usage;

    • (h) At the end of the six (6) month period you are entitled to a payment plan that will work for you that will include any current outstanding debt and your ongoing usage for two (2) years while we work on lowering your ongoing usage costs;

    • (i) If we have placed your debt on hold and you don’t stick to your agreed payment plan, we will contact you to talk about things that may help including adjusting the payment amount and/or frequency of the payments. We will also add any unpaid amount to the arrears that are owed;

    • (j) Referral to a financial counsellor or the national debt hotline (www.ndh.org.au) 1800 007 007.

  • 7 Payment plan arrangements

  • This section applies to residential customers whose re payment in arrears is not on hold under the ‘Minimum assistance’ provisions above.

  • We will accept a payment proposal put forward by you under that complies with the following:

    • (a) Agree on equal amounts that will be paid on a regular intervals basis such as weekly, fortnightly or monthly;

    • (b) The payments will incorporate the arrears owing on the account so your debt is fully paid within twenty four (24) months;

    • (c) Provides for payments for energy use being made together with payments to reduce arrears;

    • (d) is based on a reasonable forecast of energy use over the next twelve (12) months.

  • We may accept a payment proposal or revised proposal that includes the following:

    • (a) Payments of different amounts at different intervals;

    • (b) Would result in the arrears being fully paid by a date later than 2 years after the first payment;

    • (c) Payments for energy use being made separately from payments for arrears.

  • Once a payment proposal or a revised proposal has been accepted, we will provide the written schedule of payments showing the following:

    • (a) The total number of payments to be made to pay the arrears;

    • (b) The time period over which the payments are to be made;

    • (c) The date on which the payments are due; and

    • (d) The amount of each payment.

  • If you miss a payment we will contact you to discuss varying the amount or frequency of these payments or help with any other assistance to get you back on track.

  • 8 Payment Options

  • There are different payment options available to hardship customers, including:

    • (a) payment plans; and

    • (b) the use of Centrepay.

  • 9 When Assistance Ends

  • If you cannot meet the payments agreed to under your payment plan and cannot be contacted, we may not be able to continue to offer you assistance. If that happens you will be at risk of disconnection;

  • You are no longer facing payment difficulties.

  • 10 Privacy of Personal Information

  • OVO Energy is bound by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and Australian Privacy Principles, which regulate the collection, disclosure, use and storage of personal information.

  • Information will consequently be handled responsibly and in accordance with customer instructions.

  • The definition of personal information is information or opinion from which an individual's identity may be ascertained.

  • Personal information about a customer will be collected when he or she makes contact with details about an energy account, eligibility or participation in the CPDF.

  • Personal information provided by a customer will be used to determine the level of support appropriate for that account.

  • All information disclosed will be kept secure and personal information will not be disclosed to any third party unless required by law.

  • Customers may access and request updates to personal information by contacting the Customer Service Team by phone or by writing to the address provided below.

  • 11 Training

  • OVO Energy staff will receive training on this policy, issues relating to financial hardship, how to identify customers in potential hardship and how to communicate respectfully to ensure customers experiencing hardship are dealt with in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner.

  • Staff will also receive regular refresher training on identification and referral processes and protocols.

  • Staff will attend meetings and training provided by financial counsellors and community organisations to assist in understanding the issues that may be faced by customers.

  • A record of training will be kept for all staff.

  • 12 Complaints

  • Customers will be informed of their right to lodge a complaint at any time and about any aspect of OVO Energy's services. Once a customer lodges a complaint, they will be dealt with in accordance with the Standard Complaints and Dispute Resolution Procedure.

  • A customer is entitled to have his or her complaint internally escalated if he or she is not satisfied with the investigation or resolution of the complaint.

  • Customers who are not satisfied with OVO Energy's response or investigation into their complaints may contact the Energy Ombudsman in their state.