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Sustainability Performance Report 2012 31
Customer hardship
Customer hardship
As an essential service provider, AGL recognises
the importance of providing assistance to vulnerable
customers to help them manage their energy use
and meet their payments.
AGL supports the implementation of a ‘shared responsibility
model’ with respect to customers experiencing payment difficulty,
recognising the need for customers, industry, government, and
the community sector to work together in order to achieve the
best possible outcomes for vulnerable customers. With the cost
of energy continuing to increase, AGL recognises that as a major
retailer, it must contribute to ongoing debate on the most effective
ways to assist customers experiencing difficulty managing their
energy costs.
Understanding that it is has a direct role to play in assisting hardship
customers, AGL takes a multifaceted approach to the management
of these customers, by:
>> creating an environment in which customers feel confident in
discussing their payment difficulties. We recognise that if we do
our best to engage effectively with customers before they find
themselves in acute payment difficulty, then we may better be
able to assist them to manage their energy debt;
>> piloting a variety of approaches to gain a better understanding
of what forms of payment assistance work most effectively for
different customer groups. For example, it may be that some
customers require minimal extra support and do not need the
full range of measures offered in the Staying Connected program;
>> facilitating customer access to appropriate government and
community support mechanisms; and
>> aligning AGL’s
Energy for Life
program to specifically address
the issues associated with energy related debt (for further
information see page 44).
AGL’s hardship program, Staying Connected, has been assisting low-
income and vulnerable customers since 2003. Staying Connected is
designed to provide assistance to customers experiencing financial
hardship to the extent that they are unable to make payments as
required under AGL’s standard credit guidelines. While participating
in the program, customers are protected from disconnection, and
are offered a range of services, including payment plans and home
energy audits.
During FY2012, the Staying Connected program has maintained
its focus on embedding and refining the case management process
introduced just prior to the start of the year.
Additionally, as noted above, Staying Connected, in conjunction
with AGL’s credit team and Contact Centres, has piloted a range
of engagement approaches in order to provide greater flexibility
for customers who may be at risk of financial hardship. The aim of
these pilots was to engage with customers earlier in the billing cycle,
before they required the full suite of assistance offered through
Staying Connected. We are currently working through the outcomes
of these pilots, which will subsequently inform further improvements
in the way in which AGL approaches customer hardship.
Vision for customers in hardship:
AGL’s vision is to be a
recognised industry leader in customer hardship policy.
At the end of the financial year, 8,213 customers were participating
in the Staying Connected program. This represents a decrease of 5%
compared to the 8,652 customers participating in the previous year.
The average level of energy debt among Staying Connected
participants at the end of FY2012 was $1,784, up 7.6% from
$1,658 in FY2011. Unfortunately, this means that we did not meet
our target of a 5% reduction of the average debt. We have not
been able to identify one single issue which has contributed to this
outcome, however, it is likely that the fact that the cost of energy
has increased in the last 12 months has subsequently resulted
in an increase in energy debt for many customers already struggling
to manage their bills. Accordingly, the target for FY2013 has been
adjusted to reflect real (rather than nominal) changes in the level
of customer debt.
Average level of debt of customers on Staying Connected
No. of Staying
Connected customers
Average level of energy debt
Number of Staying Connected
Average level of energy debt