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Australia Govt: New rules aim to protect customers experiencing family violence

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Energy customers affected by family violence will be better protected under new rules set out in a final determination published by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) today.

Chair of the AEMC, Anna Collyer, said family violence perpetrators can exploit energy services to control survivors, undermine financial security, and inflict psychological and physical harm.

‘Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability, homelessness and illness in adult women than any other preventable risk factor,’ Ms Collyer said. ‘Perpetrators can use the need for utilities like gas and electricity in many ways to control and harm people – including finding them in new locations.’

The new rules are being worked on under the National Energy Retail Rules, because energy retailers can play a significant role in helping protect the survivors among their customers.

‘The final rule includes measures that protect customers’ physical safety by safeguarding their identities and locations, as well as helping with the financial challenges that frequently arise after leaving a violent household,’ Ms Collyer said. ‘It requires actions for retailers that will drive changes to their culture, like building their staff’s skills and making the safety of an affected customer paramount in their dealings.’

National coordinator of the Economic Abuse Reference Group, Carolyn Bond, said new measures that prevent a retailer from asking an affected customer to provide evidence of domestic abuse will go a long way.

‘It is so important to see in this rule change that victim-survivors of abuse no longer have to provide evidence before they receive assistance. Many people choose not to go to court or report their abuse to the police in order to obtain documentary evidence.

‘On the other hand, in situations where that evidence is available, it can contain personal details that can re-trigger trauma for the customer and be confronting for staff,’ Ms Bond said.

The final rule requires that when dealing with customers affected by family violence, retailers must:

have regard firstly to the safety of an affected customer in any dealing they have with them
not disclose confidential information about an affected customer to another person (and must require their contractors and agents not to disclose this information) without the customer’s consent
provide a secure process to identify affecteds customers and minimise the need for them to repeatedly disclose their experiences
not require documentary evidence in order to offer protection
ensure staff can identify, assist, and engage appropriately and effectively with customers affected by family violence
adopt, publish, and comply with a comprehensive family violence policy
consider family violence as likely to cause payment difficulties and hardship, meaning affected customers may also qualify for other forms of assistance.

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