#BetterTogether – Making progress with a first of its kind Energy Network Vulnerable Customer Assistance Program

Energy Charter signatories are making progress towards their commitment of supporting customers facing vulnerable circumstances – Principle 5 of the Energy Charter. Leading the way for energy networks is AGIG who has developed an organisation wide vulnerable customer strategy and will be designing and delivering a Vulnerable Customer Assistance Program (VCAP) starting in South Australia and Queensland in 2021.  

“As a network business there are opportunities for us to do more for those customers who are in need. Through our customer engagement, we understand our customers expect us to be there for those in the community that need us more, be it when we’re in the field, or taking a call. This program of activities positions us to identify and engage with customers at risk and provides tailored services to prevent them falling into hardship, so they can get back on track.”- Kristen Pellew, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG)

Traditionally, the provision of assistance to vulnerable customers has been the domain of retailers, not-for-profit organisations and governments. Through our stakeholder engagement process, the development of the Energy Charter (which AGIG is a signatory to), and the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that we have a larger role to play in supporting our vulnerable customers.

Here at AGIG, we are committed to delivering for all customers, including ensuring our services are accessible and safe for those who are most vulnerable in our community.  To bring this program to life, we prioritised the elements of the VCAP during a series of three co-design workshops with experts and stakeholders from the social and community services sector, as part of our AGN South Australian Access Arrangement. 

These workshops were focused on the topic: How might AGN better support vulnerable customers – now and in the future? Workshop participants were experts from the social and community services sector including financial hardship, disability, mental health, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, and older Australians. Prioritised ideas were captured by KPMG and documented in a Final Report. From there we conducted further engagement with stakeholders to refine a proposal which was ultimately endorsed by the AER.

Looking forward, our next step will be to engage collaboratively with key stakeholders, partners organisations and staff to ensure AGIG continues to improve it’s understanding of customer vulnerability and capability to respond appropriately. From there we will to design and operationalise a fit for purpose program in order to deliver the required services in partnership with others.

New services as part of the VCAP for those who are in vulnerable circumstances may include:

  • Free gas safety appliance checks, for South Australian householders to keep them safe
  • Financial support for switching to more efficient gas appliances for customers to help manage their bills
  • During a planned or unplanned outage, AGIG will provide tailored support, such as temporary cooking, heating or washing needs.  
  • Vulnerable customers can access funding for emergency appliance repairs, keeping those in need connected
  • We will help engage, identify and refer vulnerable customers for support, as AGN field crews have face to face interactions with customers and the community.
  • Customers who are vulnerable will only tell us their story once and our call centre and field crews will provide a tailored service

AGN’s VCAP includes a dedicated vulnerable customer role, priority services register using an upgraded CRM system, gas appliance safety checks and emergency repair assistance and support to help access to more efficient appliances.

“We’ve reviewed the journey of a gas customer, and to make it work, we will be partnering with others in the supply chain, government & community organisations to implement innovative solutions that will improve outcomes for customers in vulnerable circumstances.” – Chris Fidler, Multinet Gas Head of Customer and Market Services