Victoria’s energy market is failing our most vulnerable people, according to Consumer Action Law Centre. With the release of the Essential Services Commission’s Energy Hardship Inquiry Draft Report today, Consumer Action welcomes recognition that the energy market regulatory framework needs to change.
This follows the release of Consumer Action’s ‘Heat or Eat’ report which details the stories of six Victorians and the trauma energy disconnection can cause to people living in already difficult circumstances.
“We know first-hand the impact these decisions have on struggling Victorians” says Denise Boyd, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Consumer Action.
“We’ve seen people experiencing family violence, mental health and long term unemployment suffer even further by having their power disconnected. We’re heartened the Essential Services Commission has recognised the issues associated with energy debt and disconnection and we’ll be working closely with retailers, the Commission and Government to make change happen.”
Consumer Action has recommended that:
- Caps be introduced for the amount a retailer can request from a person reliant on Government assistance
- A home energy audit program be introduced for low income households
- The power to disconnect households be made by an independent panel or arbiter – not retailers.
Boyd says the response and attitude to financial difficulty must change.
“It’s not as simple as saying “use less energy” or “manage your money better”. Many of our clients are reliant on Government support and are already forced into the demoralising decision between staying warm or putting food on the table. Retailers and government must change the way they identify and manage consumers in financial difficulty and hardship. The Commission’s report has taken the first step to ensure better outcomes for Victorians, but we need to go further and ensure that everyone can access affordable energy. Any new framework must protect the most vulnerable Victorians.”
The full ‘Heat or Eat’ report is available to download here.
Last year, Consumer Action released a report identifying fundamental flaws in the way energy retailers identify and assist struggling customers: Problems with Payment: How energy retailers can assist consumers having trouble paying bills
That report recommended that energy retailers take proactive steps to communicate that assistance is available, and to identify and assist struggling clients before their energy debts become insurmountable. We also recommended that there be easy and consistent access to information for financial counsellors and community workers who work closely with low income and vulnerable Australians.
Quotes attributable to Janine Rayner, Senior Policy Officer – Consumer Action Law Centre in response to Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio’s announcement “Making Energy Bills Fairer For Families” ( http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/making-energy-bills-fairer-for-families)
“We are heartened by the Government’s commitment to Victorian energy consumers. The increased powers for the Essential Services Commission in the proposed legislative amendments are welcome at a time when competition is failing consumers, and the market becomes ever more complex.”
“The ability for the Essential Services Commission to issue infringement notices, accept court-enforceable undertakings, or even to name and shame retailers for poor treatment of customers will drive better outcomes for Victorian consumers by making essential service providers more accountable.”
“We consider the increased payment amounts for wrongful disconnections to be an essential step towards a fairer, safer, more accessible and affordable energy market. The personal cost of disconnection, particularly when it has been done wrongfully, cannot be understated for consumers.”
“The impact of disconnection on the most vulnerable members of our society is so significant that we have recommended this decision be taken out of the hands of retailers and this responsibility given to an independent panel or arbiter.”