Power bill relief measures forcing energy companies to grant concessions to small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been extended until the end of October.
Initially unveiled by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) in March, the measures require energy companies to consider payment plans or even bill deferrals for SMEs affected by the pandemic.
Energy companies must also waive contract fees and aren’t allowed to disconnect small business customers that have made contact with them under the scheme, which was due to expire at the end of July.
Announcing the power bill relief extension on Tuesday, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions Angus Taylor said the Morrison government wanted to ensure energy companies help small businesses rather than burdening them.
“COVID-19 is forcing all of us to change the way we live and work right now, and that means spending more time at home,” he said in a statement.
“As a result, households are experiencing higher energy usage and that drives up energy bills, which is concerning for many Australians.”
The protections rule that:
- Energy companies must offer all small businesses in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement;
- Disconnection, re-connection, and/or contract break fees and daily supply charges must be waived for small businesses which aren’t operating;
- Businesses must not be disconnected if they’ve made contact with their retailer before October 31; and
- Debt collection activities must be deferred until at least October 31.
The extension will add an additional two months to energy bill relief for small businesses — a move expected to be particularly beneficial for those caught in the second round of trading restrictions across metropolitan Melbourne.
Many businesses in Victoria have been forced to shut down their business for the second time in recent months as a second wave of coronavirus infections rips through the state.