Our response to assisting vulnerable customers

08 April, 2020

Access to essential services, such as electricity, is necessary to sustain the health and wellbeing of our community. The affordability of energy is an issue across Australia and is influenced by a range of factors.

There are a number of ways energy companies can support vulnerable customers and SA Power Networks is committed to working with our Community Reference Group to understand customer needs and ensure the customer voice is considered and heard in our decision-making.

Our Vulnerable Customer Strategy

SA Power Networks developed a Vulnerable Customer Strategy in the latter part of 2019, in consultation with our Community Reference Group.

The strategy acknowledges that vulnerability is not a label - it is a situation in which customers find themselves.

A vulnerable customer is someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is susceptible to detriment or personal hardship. There are a variety of reasons that customers may be considered vulnerable, including but not limited to:

  • Financial – energy affordability
  • Disability
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities
  • Age
  • Education or employment status
  • Geography – regional or remote living

Our strategy identified six characteristics of vulnerability in relation to access to energy services:

  • Financial hardship
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse communities/ new migrants
  • Ongoing health issues - disability, mental health, ageing
  • Isolated/ regional/ rural community
  • Small business
  • Life support customers
Characteristics of Vulnerability Description
Financial hardship
  • Rely on financial support
  • Face disconnection for non-payment
  • Often in rental accommodation - poor quality housing stock and low quality appliances
Culturally and linguistically diverse communities/ new migrants
  • Language barriers
  • System complex
  • Often don’t understand energy usage
Ongoing health issues - disability, mental health, ageing
  • Rely on electricity to function and maintain life
Isolated / regional / rural community
  • Limited access to infrastructure
  • Lower levels of reliability
Small business
  • High bills make being competitive difficult
  • No access to funding if outages
Life Support customers
  • Life support customers system allows no visibility of critical customers

In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, we are looking at quickly progressing a number of initiatives to help vulnerable customers over the next few months, whilst ensuring we maintain an essential service to the community.

This includes:

  • Customer information and education regarding reducing consumption and energy efficiency whilst working from home
  • Distribution support
  • Establishing a COVID-19 One Stop Shop on Talking Power and the SA Power Networks website providing regular and consistent information to our customers
    • Links to how to pay your bills and financial assistance available, including temporary COVID-19 payments, retailer hardship programs or other financial support
    • Links to mental health resources if feeling lonely and isolated – Lifeline, Beyond Blue
    • Energy advisory tips
  • Investigating our approach to planned work and communication on outage times
    • Acknowledge that these types of planned outages may have a greater impact given that more people than ever before are now at home due to coronavirus.
    • We are evaluating the need for particular work activities to proceed and how we might be able to minimise the impact on customers in the current circumstances.
    • Look at providing an estimate of the hours required to do the job
    • Target planned work on non-essential services being closed where possible
    • Encouraging customers to register for P@MP and to receive notifications on planned/ unplanned outages
  • Developing simple messages for our culturally and linguistically diverse communities to help us engage during the COVID-19 situation
  • Providing advice to customers who have stockpiled supplies in the case of unplanned outages
  • Continue to engage and work with our Customer Consultative Panel and Community Reference Group to investigate other possible options and initiatives to help vulnerable customers
  • Implementing a number of changes to our work practices so we can safely maintain our services
    • Working to ensure we minimise the impact of an extended shutdown on our vital services to customers, including outage and emergency response
    • Instructed our people in appropriate social distancing and hygiene protocols to safely manage interactions with customers
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