Vulnerable consumers

Guideline on arrangements to assist low-income and vulnerable consumers.

The Electricity Authority has developed and published a guideline on arrangements to assist low-income and vulnerable domestic consumers. The guideline covers alternative payment options, credit control, bonds and standards for disconnections following non-payment.

We've summarised the key elements of the guideline below.

Please note: Although the Electricity Authority’s guideline was created with the help of major power companies, it is only voluntary. Power companies are not legally obliged to meet the guideline.

What is a low-income domestic consumer?

The Electricity Authority defines a low-income consumer as someone for whom "it is genuinely difficult for the domestic consumer to pay his or her electricity bills because of severe financial insecurity, whether temporary or permanent.”

What is a vulnerable consumer?

Vulnerable consumers are consumers for whom, “if for reasons of age, health or disability, disconnection of electricity presents a clear threat to their or a member of their household’s health or wellbeing”.

No verified vulnerable consumer should be disconnected for an unpaid bill – unless a power retailer has exhausted all reasonable attempts to contact the consumer and organise another method of repaying outstanding debt. 

How do I become classified as a low-income/vulnerable consumer?

If you think you should be classed as a 'vulnerable consumer', you should contact your power retailer immediately.

The revised guideline states that a power company must ascertain whether or not you are a vulnerable consumer if you face disconnection for the first time.

What is a medically-dependent vulnerable consumer?

A vulnerable consumer who is dependent on electricity for critical medical support is called a ‘medically-dependent vulnerable consumer’.

How do I become classified as a medically-dependent vulnerable consumer?

If you think you should be classed as a 'medically-dependent vulnerable consumer', then you need to contact your power retailer immediately. The retailer will most likely request proof of your medical dependency – usually a letter signed by your GP or some other form of verification from a recognised source.

The revised guideline states that a power company must ascertain whether or not you are a medically dependent vulnerable consumer if you face disconnection for the first time.

What happens if I can't pay a power bill?

Provided you talk to your power retailer, several options are available. Firstly the power retailer will look at different ways of repaying outstanding bills so that you are not faced with one large payment.

If you still can't make ends meet, your power company should direct you to some form of financial assistance/budgeting advice from government or social services.

The power company should look at alternative pricing plans – such as pre-payment meters or automatic payments – to prevent unmanageable debt in the future.

When will I be disconnected?

Every power company has a different disconnection cycle but as a general rule of thumb disconnection will occur if a bill is not paid within 4-6 weeks after it is mailed. Before disconnection, your power company will send out several reminders that a bill is due and, eventually, call you before disconnecting your power.

Be aware: power retailers often charge a large disconnection fee, so avoid being cut off if at all possible.

What happens once I have been disconnected?

Once you have been disconnected, you will need to contact your power retailer and arrange for a contractor to come around to your house and reconnect the power. But first of all, you will have to clear all your existing power debt or organise a form of staggered repayment.

Be aware: power retailers often charge a hefty reconnection fee, so avoid being cut off if at all possible. 

Where can I find out more?

For more information, see the Electricity Authority’s Guideline on arrangements to assist vulnerable consumers.