More protection needed for vulnerable electricity consumers

We've called for mandatory standards to protect consumers at risk of having their power disconnected.

Long-overdue protections for vulnerable electricity consumers are among proposals included in the Electricity Price Review’s latest report.

The review has backed our call for mandatory standards to protect consumers at risk of having their power disconnected and those on pre-pay meters, who often have little choice of retailer and are hardest hit by rising prices.

It’s also recommended government funding be earmarked to provide financial assistance and energy-efficiency advice to households suffering “energy hardship” – a situation where energy spending is high relative to income.

Prompt-payment discounts would be scrapped under the proposals, a move we support. These discounts unfairly penalise consumers who can’t pay their bill early. While late-payment fees would still be allowed, the amount charged would be capped.

We also back the review’s call for an advisory council to be set up to ensure consumer interests are represented in decision-making about the sector.

Other recommendations intend to make it easier for consumers to compare electricity retailers and what they’re paying. This includes additional support for the Powerswitch site, which Consumer NZ runs, and requirements for retailers to put information in power bills about how to switch.

Retailers would also have to supply information in bills about Utilities Disputes, a free dispute resolution service.

The report includes other recommendations to improve price transparency in the wholesale market.

In addition, it recommends the big generator-retailers – think Contact, Genesis, Mercury, Meridian and Trustpower – should be required to release information about the profitability of their retail activities.

Submissions on the review’s recommendations close on 22 March. The review panel is due to deliver its final report to the government by mid-2019.

The review panel was established in April 2018 by energy minister Megan Woods to investigate electricity pricing. Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin is a member of the review panel.

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