Consumer groups and the financial counselling sector have welcomed the launch of a new customer code for the energy sector. The Knock to Stay Connected customer code requires network companies to visit people at risk of disconnection and encourages them to outline the support and referral services available if the customer is having payment difficulties, with the aim of keeping them connected.
Trials in some networks have been promising, with customer disconnections reducing by up to 80 per cent in one pilot. The voluntary code has been put together by the Energy Charter, a group of energy-sector businesses whose aim is to achieve better outcomes for energy consumers. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) and the South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS) all provided input to the Code and are working with network businesses to improve information and support given to people facing disconnection. PIAC will undertake further research into debt and disconnection, the impact of the new Code and opportunities for further development. Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) is promoting the code through its involvement in the launch event.
However, very few energy retailers are involved in the code. The groups are urging other retailers to join.
PIAC’s Water and Energy program director Douglas McCloskey said the Code was a good first step to reducing the number of people disconnected from the energy they need.
“More needs to be done to help households in stress avoid disconnection. We look forward to the Code evolving to ensure people have the information they need to get help, stay connected and avoid further debt and disconnection threats,” Mr McCloskey said.
Consumer Action CEO Stephanie Tonkin said energy was an essential service, and “This is the kind of fresh thinking that needs to be adopted by the telcos.
Telecommunications is also an essential service, but despite this each year thousands of people are being disconnected without adequate contact from their provider, that is wrong and unfair,” Ms Tonkin said.
FCA CEO Fiona Guthrie said the Code was a “great initiative, which has clearly shown how the drastic and harmful step of disconnection can be avoided when we reach out to people and interact with them at a human level”.
SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley said having the power cut off due to an inability to pay is likely to be a traumatic experience for anyone. “South Australian trials have shown face-to-face contact and a last opportunity to connect with supports can be a much-needed lifeline for many households,” Mr Womersley said.
“SACOSS welcomes this Code and strongly encourages all retailers to adopt the process as soon as possible. It’s a real and tangible way energy retailers can help people avoid the harmful impacts of energy disconnection.”
Learn more about the Energy Charter’s Knock to Stay Connected customer code.
Mark Pearce 0413 299 567 or email@example.com