Putting consumers first: a collaborative approach to consumer care
The Electricity Authority has released guidelines encouraging electricity retailers to proactively enhance the standard of care provided to all domestic consumers. The consumer care guidelines will replace the existing guidelines on arrangements for retailers to assist medically dependent and vulnerable consumers, which have each been in place for more than a decade.
“Under the consumer care guidelines, retailers will be expected to tell their customers how they will work with them, so they have access to electricity at the best price to meet their needs. Retailers should also explain the support available to customers who experience payment difficulties”, says Electricity Authority Chief Strategy Officer, James Tipping.
“Retailers generally do a good job of serving their consumers and take their responsibilities to their most vulnerable consumers very seriously. They have been working collaboratively for many years to improve outcomes for consumers. However, there is always room for improvement. While the existing retailer guidelines to assist medically dependent and vulnerable consumers have served consumers well, since those guidelines were introduced the electricity industry and consumer needs have changed significantly.”
The Electricity Authority worked closely with a range of stakeholders including consumer representative groups, large and small electricity retailers, distributors, academics researching energy poverty, government agencies, and support agencies to collect as much input as possible from the industry to produce new guidelines to improve outcomes for electricity consumers.
“We heard through the development process that vulnerability takes many different forms and can impact any person at any time during their lives. Retailers need to adopt a mindset of early engagement and proactivity with all their consumers, not just a subset defined at a point in time”.
A key development in the new guidelines is the requirement for each retailer to publish a consumer care policy. This will set out how the retailer aligns with the guidelines and will provide a transparent, public commitment to consumer care.
Although alignment with the consumer care guidelines will be voluntary, the Electricity Authority expects that all retailers will align their processes to meet the guidelines.
“The retailers have been a driving force for change. There has been a lot of collaboration with retailers throughout the development of these guidelines, so I am confident there is strong support for them”, says Dr Tipping.
The Electricity Authority will monitor retailers’ alignment to the consumer care guidelines, and check retailer efforts are providing the expected beneficial outcomes for consumers. If retailers do not align their practices and processes with the intent of the consumer care guidelines, then regulation is an option the Government may consider.
The electricity price review (EPR) recommended that the existing guidelines be reviewed and strengthened, as part of a process to set minimum standards for providing electricity to vulnerable and medically dependent consumers. The consumer care guidelines go beyond the EPR recommendation, as they require electricity retailers to better support all their domestic consumers.
Consumers who are dependent on electricity for medical reasons may need additional assistance. The guidelines include extra provisions to help retailers meet these specific needs.
The consumer care guidelines take effect on 1 July 2021 and all retailers are expected to align with them fully by 31 December 2021.
Read the consumer care guidelines.
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