Australian Gas Networks – Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the entire Australian community, forcing us to change the way we work and interact with each other. Australian Gas Networks (AGN), part of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG) has developed a COVID-19 response plan to address these challenges.
Our plan recognises that the supply of natural gas is an essential service. AGIG is committed to delivering safe and reliable gas services to more than 2 million customers across Australia.
New Help for Victorians with their energy bills
- The Victorian Government has rolled out a team of financial counsellors and community workers in partnership with community organisations to give targeted advice and support to Victorians who need help with their energy bills.
- The suite of programs involves webinars delivered by the Consumer Policy Research Centre and a tailored Energy Assistance and Brokerage Program to help people get the best value energy deal, run by a consortium which includes the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Australian Energy Foundation and Uniting Vic.
- The support is available online and over-the-phone (Financial counselling is available in languages including Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi and Vietnamese). For support, please call 1800 830 029, and live webinars to help households manage their energy costs can be accessed at energyinfohub.org.au
- Please contact your gas retailer for any other financial assistance that may be available also.
Our plan focuses on assisting our customers and local communities.
- We are working with industry to implement the principles set out by the Australian Energy Regulator (www.aer.gov.au) to protect customers and the energy market during this difficult time
- We are supporting energy retailers by not disconnecting residential or small business customers who may be in financial stress, to 31 July 2020 and potentially beyond.
We are implementing a network relief package - this package includes supporting energy retailers by either rebating or deferring network charges to eligible residential customers who go on payment plans or hardship arrangements as a result of COVID-19 for the period 1 April to 30 June, and providing tariff relief to eligible small business customers who experience financial stress, or temporarily close, as a result of COVID-19 for the period 1 April to 30 June.
For further details on the energy network relief package, please see link https://www.energynetworks.com.au/miscellaneous/covid-19-electricity-and-gas-network-relief-package/
Customers who have been impacted by COVID-19 should contact their energy retailer to determine what type of financial assistance may be available.
Gas Disconnections – Australian Gas Networks
South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales (only)
On 28 July 2020, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released their updated Statement of Expectations of energy businesses (Statement). This Statement sets out important steps the AER expects energy businesses to undertake from 1 August 2020 to protect customers and the market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting these requirements will be in place until at least 31 October 2020 (and potentially beyond that date).
This statement specifically states energy businesses (retailers and distributors) “do not disconnect – other than at their request – any residential or small business customer who may be in financial stress (including a small business eligible for the JobKeeper Payment) who:
1. has made contact with retailers or responded to communications from retailers; or
2. is accessing any retailer support.”
We have been in contact with retailers who have advised us they do not make decisions to disconnect customers lightly and disconnections are used only a last resort, particularly during the current pandemic. They have confirmed before making any disconnection request to us they will have been in direct contact with the customer, or made all reasonable efforts where they do not have customer details for the site.
However, to meet our obligations as a responsible distributor, we have required retailers to provide statements to us to confirm any disconnection requests have met the AER expectations and will only request a disconnection where either:
- it is a “Customer requested disconnection”; or
- the “Customer has not made contact with retailer or responded to retailer communications, and Customer is not accessing any retailer support.”
Without this confirmation we will consider we have not been able to meet our obligations under the Statement and will cancel the disconnection request.
Further, where we attend a site to complete the disconnection and a customer advises they have:
- not requested the disconnection; and
- they are in communication with the retailer; or
- accessing retailer support
We will cancel the disconnection request and advise the retailer accordingly.
Please note that network disconnections for safety will still continue where applicable.
With the heightened COVID restrictions in Victoria, and the Essential Service Commission directions, (effective from 20 August – 31 October 2020 and potentially beyond) – AGN (Victoria) will not complete disconnections in Victoria until further notice.
We will consider, on an exception only basis, special disconnection requests from retailers and will assess these on a case-by-case basis before undertaking any disconnections.
Our work environment
We have enacted a series of measures as part of our response plan across the Group to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. These include:
- We are practicing strict social distancing at all times as recommended by Government Authorities
- Where possible, employees are now working from home to reduce the risk of spread, and for those persons unable to work from home, we have strict controls in place, including cleaning regimes, alternating work groups and increased hygiene expectations to maintain a clean work environment
- We have mandated a 14-day self-isolation period for a series of select criteria
Our operational focus is to safely maintain the reliability of gas supply for our customers and the broader community. This service has not been impacted by COVID-19.
- We are continuing to provide critical services including responding to gas faults and emergencies, carrying out emergency repairs, as well as operational and maintenance activities to ensure customers receive a safe and reliable gas supply.
- As part our commitment in improving gas supply and delivering essential gas distribution services, our contractors will be performing works on the gas assets located within the vicinity of customers’ premises and we will be continuing to read gas meters.
- We are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and health of our customers, employees and contractors, but we need customers help by maintaining a high degree of vigilance. Our employees and contractors have been directed, and we ask customers to maintain social distancing (>1.5m) at all times.
- If the customer’s gas supply needs to be turned off for planned maintenance, we will send customers a notice of this work so that they can plan ahead. We are aware that these types of planned outages may have a greater impact given that more people than ever before are now at home due to the COVID – 19. In these circumstances, we are closely 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.
- We are requesting any customer who is impacted by our field work activities such as above to declare if they are showing signs of flu symptoms, to ensure that we can make arrangements to protect the safety of our employees and contractors.
Faults and Emergencies
Our faults or emergency service has not been impacted by COVID-19. If customers experience any gas faults or emergencies, please call on - 1800 427 532 (24 hours).
Our Customer Enquiries centre can be contacted on 1300 001 001 (business hours). Whilst this call centre is operating normally, we do encourage customers to email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email enquiries are being responded in a timely manner during business hours.
Meter Reading activities are continuing and all Field Staff are following strict hygiene and physical distancing. Meter Readers are not to enter the home of any of our customers. All works related to entry have ceased. Meter Readers who encounter members of the public are to ensure they practice social distancing techniques – maintaining a minimum of 1.5m distance, no physical contact (i.e. shaking hands).
AGN acknowledges that the COVID-19 situation will remain highly fluid for some time yet. We will continually update this information on our website as circumstances change.