15 May 2023

Fewer than half of electricity retailers complying with consumer care guidelines - report

4:25 pm on 15 May 2023
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The Consumer Advocacy Council is calling for The Electricity Authority to makes its customer care guidelines mandatory after several electricity retailers admitted to not fully complying with guidelines to protect consumers.

The Electricity Authority, which regulates the electricity market, has released the findings of its first review of electricity retailers' compliance with the Consumer Care Guidelines.

Retailers had worked with the authority to develop the voluntary guidelines, which were introduced in 2021.

The basic protections include making sure that customers are on the best pricing plan for them and ensuring that medically dependent consumers cannot just be disconnected.

But the findings revealed only 18 of the 38 retailers were fully complying with them.

Retailer Genesis admitted to not fully adhering.

While nine retailers including Nova did not respond "even after authority staff repeatedly asked them to do so", the Electricity Authority reported.

Consumer Advocacy Council chair Deborah Hart said electricity was too important a service to be governed by a set of voluntary guidelines.

"The Electricity Authority needs to make the consumer care guidelines mandatory," Hart said.

She said following a law change in 2022, the Electricity Authority now had a very specific mandate to protect the interests of residential and small business consumers.

"The fact that only three retailers responded on time and that nine out of 38 retailers did not bother to respond at all shows the level of contempt for the guidelines that exists in the industry," Hart said.

Those not responding were not all small players either, she said.

"Nova has 65,000 customers and didn't even bother to answer the electricity of authority on how it is meeting the guidelines."

She said she was also horrified how many customers risked disconnection.

"It's really worrying that for some of our most vulnerable consumers - those who rely on electrical medical devices - a quarter of the households were not fully protected from the risk of disconnection. One of those not fully complying in this regard was one of our largest retailers, Genesis."

Consumers needed certainty that they had basic protections regardless of which retailer they were with, she said.

"We know that some big and small retailers like Meridian and Flick think making the guidelines mandatory is a good idea."

With a cost of living crisis, lots of people were going to find it harder to pay their electricity bills, she said.

"They have to be assured that all retailers, no matter who they are, was will try, will treat them fairly."

ERANZ Chief Executive Bridget Abernethy said in a statement on Tuesday: “The Electricity Retailers’ Association members are committed to the highest standards of consumer care. We supported the development of the Consumer Care Guidelines in 2021, and we remain serious about implementing them.

“The data from this report was collected in August last year and since that time our retailers have taken further steps to improve their processes around the guidelines and do their best for customers.

“I would note that in addition to some gaps identified by retailers, the EA has acknowledged an error in its reporting of Meridian’s assessment for example.”

* An earlier version of this story stated that: Three out of the six biggest retailers (Genesis, Mercury and Trustpower) all admitted to not fully adhering. Since the EA released its report, it has updated it to correct errors it contained, stating: "The report now published shows that Mercury (and its subsidiaries Trustpower and Globug) and Meridian (and its Powershop brand) are assessed as fully aligned with the guidelines".

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