Improving electricity consumer protections and choice
The Electricity Authority Te Mana Hiko (Authority) has decided to mandate the Consumer Care Guidelines (Guidelines) to improve protections for consumers.
This decision follows our consultation from September 2023 that sought feedback on four options to update and strengthen the Guidelines.
Sarah Gillies, the Authority’s Chief Executive expressed gratitude for the remarkable engagement, with over 1,000 submissions received including drawings from young children.
Predominantly, the feedback came from consumers and advocacy groups, highlighting the importance of the Guidelines to consumers in New Zealand. We also received valuable feedback from electricity retailers and other stakeholders.
After careful consideration of all submissions, the Authority has opted for Option 4 – mandating the whole of the Guidelines, except Part 10. Part 10 looks at information disclosure and monitoring, which is being addressed in an ongoing consultation.
“We believe this decision is the best pathway forward to ensure consumers receive a consistent and supportive level of care from their electricity retailer, regardless of who they choose,” says Gillies.
The Authority commits to a short review process engaging stakeholders to address the clarity, workability and enforceability issues raised during consultation. Acknowledging their original voluntary design, Gillies stated that resolving these issues will facilitate a smooth transition to mandatory Guidelines by 1 January 2025.
“The degree to which we can resolve issues raised by industry participants will largely depend on their level of engagement. As we work to mandate the Guidelines, we expect retailers to maintain or improve their alignment with the current Guidelines and we will continue monitoring and reporting on alignment to ensure protections for consumers are being upheld.”
2022/23 Retailer alignment report
Accompanying this decision is the 2022/23 Consumer Care Guidelines Annual Alignment Statement report.
The alignment report presents retailer self-assessed statements of alignment with the Guidelines for the period 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023. This is the second alignment report since the implementation of the Guidelines in July 2021.
“We are pleased to see a greater level of alignment with the Guidelines compared to last year, particularly among large and medium retailers,” comments Gillies.
This report contributes to the Authority’s broader efforts to support consumers with their dealings with electricity retailers and has helped form our decision to mandate the Guidelines.
“While we are seeing greater self-reported alignment, challenges persist reinforcing the need to review the Guidelines before making them mandatory.”
Consumer plan comparison and switching
In parallel, the Authority is consulting on how it can best support consumers to find the right energy plans for their needs.
As Gillies explains, the Authority’s latest consultation acknowledges that energy plans are growing in number and complexity.
“While more plans mean more choices are available, it does also make it harder for consumers to assess which plan is right for them. But when given the right information, consumers can gain greater agency over their energy use and power bill.”
Encouraging consumers to compare their energy plans with others available in the market can help relieve growing price pressures on households. Consumers that regularly choose to switch their plan or provider in search of a better deal can also support market competition by encouraging retailers to keep their costs low and develop innovative services to gain more customers.
The Authority has put forward eight options for feedback – five website-based options and three consumer choice support options, including community advisors.
“We have advised our preferred option, but as always, feedback is crucial to our decision-making process, and I encourage everyone to have their say.”
Consultation closes at 5pm on 8 March 2024.
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