Page 34 - AGL Sustainability Report 2011

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Customers
AGL Energy Limited 32
Customers in hardship
Customers in hardship
As an essential service provider, AGL recognises
the importance of providing assistance to vulnerable
customers to help them reach a sustainable
energy position.
Approach
AGL supports the concept of a ‘shared responsibility model’ within
the context of customer hardship, recognising the need for industry,
government, and the community to work together in order to
achieve the best possible outcomes for low-income and vulnerable
customers. With energy prices continuing to rise (largely due to
the costs involved with upgrading transmission and distribution
infrastructure), AGL recognises that as a major retailer, it must
contribute to ongoing debate on the most effective way to assist
vulnerable customers.
To this end, in FY2011, AGL released a research paper examining
increasing electricity costs in New South Wales and Queensland.
The paper concluded that, in the absence of policy intervention,
there is a real risk that a significant number of low-income
households are likely to experience fuel poverty (that is, more
than 10% of household income will be spent on energy) by 2015.
Following the release of the paper, AGL and a range of non-
government organisations and industry participants subsequently
developed an industry policy blueprint for addressing rising power
bills. Recommendations included the creation of a National Energy
Hardship Committee to provide advice to government, and federally
commissioned modelling to further identify the likely impact of
increased electricity prices on low-income residential consumers.
Understanding that it is has a direct role to play in assisting hardship
customers, AGL takes a multifaceted approach to the management
of vulnerable customers, by:
>> providing an empathic and supportive environment in which
customers feel confdent to discuss their payment diffculties
>> learning from those who work directly with fnancially vulnerable
consumers (for example, training in dealing with hardship
customers is provided to frontline staff by Kildonan UnitingCare)
>> facilitating customer access to appropriate government and
community support mechanisms.
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 whereby 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.
In FY2011, AGL introduced personalised case managers for all
Staying Connected participants. This initiative has resulted in a
greater rapport being established between the customer and the
Staying Connected consultant, which has in turn led to an increased
understanding of the customer’s needs and a sense of mutual
accountability. It has also enabled more frequent case reviews,
facilitating early intervention measures where necessary. In addition,
all customers on the Staying Connected program have individually
tailored payment plans that give appropriate consideration to their
capacity to pay. AGL focuses on encouraging the customer to
work towards paying for ongoing consumption, so as to limit the
potential for the customer to be placed on a payment plan which
will ultimately see them going further into debt. Where appropriate,
customers are also placed on incentive plans, whereby they receive
a payment towards their account from AGL as a reward for good
payment history.
In the coming year, AGL will continue to refine and review its
approach to customer hardship and energy affordability, working
with stakeholders to improve the service provided to hardship
customers. AGL is concerned, however, that realistic expectations
are set with respect to the extent to which retailers’ hardship
programs can assist customers facing long-term and chronic
hardship. AGL will therefore continue to promote the ‘shared
responsibility’ model in policy advocacy.
Vision for customers in hardship:
AGL’s vision is to be a
recognised industry leader in customer hardship policy.
Average level of energy debt of customers on Staying Connected
Customers
15,000
10,000
5,000
0
$
2,000
1,500
1,000
500
0
Legend
Number of Staying Connected
customers
Average level of energy debt
Target ($)