Cowell Electric licence variation: Proposed prepayment by default consumer protections
- Project Released: 23 May 2022
- Project Closes: Jun 2022
- Contact: Tamsyn Hinksman
In December 2021, the South Australian Government made the Electricity (General) (Payment Condition) Variation Regulations 2021 (Variation Regulations), which commence 1 July 2022. The Variation Regulations require the Commission to impose a condition on Cowell Electric Supply Pty Ltd’s (Cowell Electric) electricity generation, distribution and retail licence that it only sell electricity to ‘prescribed customers’ using a prepayment meter system.
The prescribed customers are approximately 2500 residential customers in the remote Aboriginal communities and associated homelands of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, Yalata, and Oak Valley who do not currently pay for electricity.
Giving effect to the Variation Regulations means that some of the consumer protections provided by the Commission’s existing Prepayment Meter System Code cannot practically be provided to these customers. As a result, an alternative set of minimum consumer protections for prescribed customers has been developed, which will form a schedule to Cowell Electric’s licence.
Current status is Submissions
The consumer protections for Cowell Electric’s prepayment by default customers have been developed in consultation with stakeholders who have an understanding of the practical implications of implementing prepayment metering systems in remote communities.
To reflect the unique conditions faced by prescribed customers, the following minimum protections will be provided:
- Improved accessibility by requiring key information about rights, responsibilities and meter operating instructions to be provided in languages relevant to customers (ie Pitjantjatjara, which is the primary First Nations language spoken in the relevant communities).
- Setting a maximum cap of 30% of any tops ups to repay emergency and/or friendly credit debt, with customers able to choose any amount below this they consider appropriate.
- An expanded definition of life support customers to recognise the needs of the local communities, coupled with more flexible registration requirements to ease the burden the medical confirmation process may place on local health services. A clear prohibition from disconnecting life support customers has also been included.
- Strengthened reporting requirements to improve transparency around disconnections, payment splitting arrangements and life support customers.
Given the significance of this change for prescribed customers, the Commission will closely monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the prepayment by default consumer protections for the first 12 months after they have been introduced. Quarterly data will be provided by Cowell Electric to allow the Commission, and the public, to understand the outcomes for prescribed customers.
A formal review of the consumer protections, based on the data provided by Cowell Electric, is planned for 12 months post implementation. However, consumer protections will be amended before then if a need is clearly demonstrated.