The National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) regulates the connection, supply and sale of energy (electricity and gas) to grid-connected residential and small business energy customers. The NECF has been adopted in the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Victoria has not adopted the NECF, however it has completed a process to harmonise the Victorian Energy Retail Code and the NECF.
The NECF was developed in recognition that energy is an essential service for all Australians and provides strong national protections. It ensures that customers should receive the same level of consumer protections, regardless of where they live.
Benefits for households and small businesses include:
- guaranteed connection and offer of supply for all small customers
- mandatory minimum terms and conditions for standard retail contracts
- 10 day ‘cooling-off’ period for market contracts
- rules to ensure customers receive appropriate information before they enter into an energy contract
- rules for how retailers present information on retail offers in energy price fact sheets
- rules for how billing is calculated and what a bill must include
- an energy retailer is required to obtain explicit informed consent from a customer when entering into a market contract, entering into direct debit arrangements, transferring to another retailer, or altering billing frequency if on a standard contract
- limitations on disconnections including prohibition on disconnections for registered life support customers
- retailers must have hardship policies in place and offer payment plans to customers that are having difficulty paying their bills
- free access to dispute resolution mechanisms through state and territory energy ombudsman schemes
- retailers must hold and respect no contact lists, and must comply with ‘do not knock’ signs
The NECF is comprised of the National Energy Retail Law, the National Energy Retail Regulations and the National Energy Retail Rules and the Australian Energy Regulator is responsible for monitoring and enforcement of NECF.
The NECF provides energy-specific consumer protections and operates alongside the Australian Consumer Law. The Australian Consumer Law applies in all states and territories and applies to all Australian businesses. It provides consumer protections in areas such as unfair contract terms, product safety, misleading information, marketing, quality guarantees and product liability.
The Australian Government continues to ensure the NECF remains up to date, with fit-for purpose consumer protections, and has sought a range of changes to the rules which have been implemented, including initiating rule changes to:
- prevent retailers misleading consumers by offer discounts off inflated base rates.
- ensure customers are provided notice when their discount period ends
- notify customers when their tariffs are about to change
- significantly reduce delays to smart meter installation timeframes, to help customers get access to new technology and innovative tariffs
- strengthen protections for hardship customers by setting guidelines to require hardship policies to be consistent and comparable, making the process easier for consumers and more transparent for regulators
- enable customers to provide self meter reads instead of estimated meter reads, to improve the accuracy of bills and reduce bill shock
If you have any questions or concerns about energy-related consumer protections you can contact the department responsible for energy in your state or territory, or your local energy ombudsman.
Energy ombudsman state and territory schemes (AER) Australian Government
NECF announcement COAG Energy Council
Compare energy offers (AER) Australian Government
National Energy Retail Law Government of South Australia
National Energy Retail Rules (AEMC) Australian Government
Regulation of the National Energy Retail Law (AER) Australian Government
Energy Retail Code (Victorian) Essential Service Commission