Consumer Action Law Centre has welcomed Victorian Labor’s new energy policy which would increase the powers the Essential Services Commission (ESC) and put consumers ‘front and centre’ of the Commission’s guiding principles. In welcoming the prospect of a stronger regulator, Consumer Action cautioned that the ESC would likely need additional initial funding to implement the policy.
‘We support moves to give the ESC “tough new powers” to help it bring rogue energy retailers to heel. We have a strong protection framework in Victoria, but without a strong, well-resourced regulator it doesn’t mean much,’ said Gerard Brody, CEO of Consumer Action.
‘We’re encouraged by the promise of extra powers for the ESC, and the additional revenue the new powers will give the ESC so that it has the resources to do its job. Enforcement activities do require funding, so there may need to be an initial boost to funds until the new revenue source can offset a higher level of regulator activity.’
Mr Brody also welcomed the prospect of the ESC publically reporting its enforcement action as well as systemic misconduct engaged in by businesses. ‘Currently, much compliance and enforcement action taken against retailers happens behind closed doors. If a retailer is breaking the rules consumers deserve to know about it – after all, they’re the ones being affected.
‘In a competitive market place consumers can choose on price, but often want to take customer service and the retailers’ behaviour into account. Publishing where retailers perform on a range of matters, including which ones have broken the energy rules and how they treat consumers experiencing financial hardship, will help consumers make an informed decision.’
Mr Brody said recent reports from Consumer Action and Financial and Consumer Rights Council had exposed shortcomings in the way energy retailer assist low-income customers struggling to pay their bills. ‘There is a common view that disconnection should be a last resort and there is a legal requirement for retailers to assist struggling households, yet we’ve seen a jump in disconnections. A stronger ESC would be better placed to intervene and make sure low-income Victorians stay connected to their energy supply.’