Federal Court Orders Origin Energy to Pay $17 Million Fine for Breaching Hardship Obligations

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Electricity provider Origin Energy has been ordered by the Federal Court to pay more than $17 million in fines for failing to meet its obligations to troubled and troubled customers.

This is the highest total penalty ever imposed for breaches of the National Energy Retailing Act and rules.

Origin admitted that its automated processes for customers in difficulty caused it to breach its hardship obligations more than 100,000 times over the four years to October last year.

In total, more than 90,000 customers in New South Wales, ACT, Queensland and South Australia have been affected.

As part of its filing, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) alleged that Origin failed to adhere to its own hardship policies in its dealings with 18 individual customers who were experiencing financial difficulty.

It has been alleged that Origin failed to identify customers experiencing financial difficulties, which meant they were not offered payment plans and, in some cases, were wrongfully disconnected.

Origin cooperated with the AER, admitting violations of energy law and rules and making joint submissions with the regulator on its sanction.

The court ordered the company to pay $200,000 in legal fees and establish a compliance and training program.

AER President Clare Savage said the court ruling was a clear reminder that automation could be a dangerous substitute for human interaction.

“The application of inflexible automated processes to thousands of customers without questioning whether they can actually honor payments shows a complete disregard for due diligence requirements in national energy laws, which are designed to protect customers in vulnerable situations,” Ms Savage said.

“When a retailer automates certain aspects of their hardship program, they need to ensure that they continue to offer individualized and tailored solutions to customers and take into account the customer’s situation, as required. the rules.

“For many customers, not being able to afford a necessity like electricity is bad enough.

“If a customer does not have the protections provided by laws and rules, it can bring them closer to debt collection and disconnection, causing even greater distress.”

Ms Savage stressed that the message was even more important in the current market conditions, where customers are facing significant pressure on the cost of living, particularly due to recent increases in energy prices.

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