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22 September 2023

Consumer care for electricity customers should not be optional

The Electricity Authority, who regulates the electricity system, is asking for public feedback on its Consumer Care Guidelines.

The guidelines are recommendations on how retailers should care for their customers. These guidelines are currently voluntary and there are no penalties for electricity providers who don’t follow them. Please take ten minutes to have your say and join our call for stronger consumer protections.

These guidelines are currently voluntary, and we think this needs to change.

You can have your say by answering six questions in the Electricity Authority’s consultation survey. The deadline is 5pm on Monday 2nd October.

Please note all survey responses will be published by the Electricity Authority.

No power

A guide to answering the survey questions

If you want some help understanding the survey questions here are some pointers.

Question 1: Do you think the Guidelines are currently delivering on their purpose and intended outcomes?

We say:

The Guidelines are supposed to ensure electricity providers:

  • treat their customers with care and respect.
  • help people who are struggling to pay their bills – this could mean they put people in touch with financial mentors or advisers.

However, given the Guidelines are not mandatory, we don’t think they are delivering on their purpose and intended outcomes.

Your answer could include:

  • Your experience of customer care from your electricity provider.
  • Do you think people are at risk of harm, or are some people using less power, because they don’t feel adequately protected?
  • Do you think there should be penalties for providers that fail to comply with the Guidelines?
  • Do you think it is fair that some electricity providers follow the guidelines and others don’t?

Question 2: Do you agree that parts 2, 6, 7 and 8 are the parts of the Guidelines that prevent the greatest harm from occurring to consumers?

We say:

Yes, we agree these are the most important parts of the Guidelines but we think all the Guidelines should be mandatory. The parts of the Guidelines this question is referring to are:

  • A publicly available consumer care policy.
  • How an electricity provider responds when its customers are struggling to pay their bills.
  • What an electricity provider should do before it disconnects someone – i.e., how much notice a customer should get and what steps an electricity provider should take before disconnecting someone.
  • How an electricity provider should treat any customers who depend on electricity for medical reasons – i.e., someone who relies on a ventilator, powered by electricity, to breathe.

If the Guidelines are going to be made mandatory in two stages, we think part 9, which is about fees, should be included in the first stage.

Your answer could include:

  • Do you agree these are the most important aspects of the Guidelines to ensure consumer protection?
  • Do you think other parts of the Guidelines are equally important – the other parts relate to things like information and records about customer care, the customer sign-up process, account management, fees, bonds, and monitoring?
  • Do you think other things are more important when it comes to keeping people safe?

Question 3: What do you think the benefits to domestic consumers will be under options 2, 3 and 4?

We say:

  • Option 2 – is to leave the Guidelines voluntary but help electricity providers to understand them. Consumer NZ does not support this option as we don’t think this gives New Zealanders enough protection. It will also mean there are no consequences for failing to comply with the Guidelines.
  • Option 3 – is to make the parts of the Guidelines (referenced in question 2) mandatory. Consumer NZ thinks this is a step in the right direction, but we want all aspects of the Guidelines to be mandatory.
  • Option 4 – is to make all parts of the Guidelines mandatory. Consumer NZ supports this option because it offers the most protection to all New Zealanders.

Your answer could include:

  • Which option you think is the best for New Zealanders?
  • Any reasons why you choose that option – if you can, include some of your own experiences to explain why you think that option is best.

Question 4: Do you agree with the Electricity Authority’s preference to go for option 3?

We say:

  • The Electricity Authority said option 3 provides the right protection for New Zealanders without impacting other things in the electricity sector, like competition, which could impact prices.
  • Consumer NZ thinks electricity providers should be caring for their customers and following the Guidelines now. We don’t think it is acceptable to pass the cost of consumer care onto customers.
  • Consumer NZ wants all parts of the consumer care guidelines to be mandatory as soon as possible.

Your answer could include:

  • Do you think the Electricity Authority’s preference is the right one? (see question 2 for the parts of the guidelines this covers).
  • Should customers expect to pay more so everyone gets consistent levels of care from their electricity provider?
  • What do you think is the best option for New Zealanders?

Question 5: Are there any other options you think we should consider?

We say:

  • Consumer NZ thinks the Electricity Authority should make all aspects of the consumer care guidelines mandatory as soon as possible.
  • If the Electricity Authority chooses option 3, Consumer NZ strongly recommends the remaining guidelines are made mandatory as soon as possible.

Your answer could include:

  • Do you think the Electricity Authority is overlooking options that would be better for everyone?
  • Should some protections be prioritised over others?
  • What do you think is the greatest risk with the current system?

Question 6: What issues outside of the current Guidelines would you like to see us consult on next?

We say:

  • Consumer NZ wants to move towards a system where no-one is disconnected because they can’t afford to pay their power bill.
  • Consumer NZ wants disconnection and reconnection fees to be investigated – people should not be penalised for experiencing hardship.
  • Consumer NZ wants prepay power prices to be investigated to ensure the people struggling the most don’t pay the highest amounts for power.
  • Consumer NZ wants to see the Electricity Authority publish information about disconnections, so there is a clear picture of the number of households going without power.

Your answer could include:

  • Are there any aspects of the electricity system you are worried about?
  • What changes would you like to see to New Zealand’s electricity system?

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