Energy bills form a disproportionately high slice of the outgoings of low income and vulnerable consumers. Those who are experiencing financial hardship on multiple fronts are likely to find their outstanding utility debts passed on to debt recovery agencies, who are then effectively pursuing unrecoverable debt without the utility company being associated with this often dubious practice. Energy retailers, as providers of an essential service, need a social licence to operate, and must consider the needs of all consumers, particularly those with a limited and in some cases declining capacity to pay, in their business models. That’s why Consumer Action will seek commitments from retailers to adopt best practice on early intervention and reform their approaches to consumers experiencing long term financial hardship, and ensure that as a bottom line, they will deliver Power to People, no matter their personal circumstance.
We will also engage public support for our efforts to secure a change to the National Energy Retail Rules to end the current industry practice of tariff variation within fixed term contracts, because we believe that Fixed Means Fixed. We will continue to publish research on the overall energy market design, drawing on Australia’s experience with current mass-market design as well as international experiences with new technologies and pricing regimes that benefit consumers. Climate change presents significant challenges for all people, with social impacts likely to affect vulnerable consumers and communities most severely. This is particularly the case for those living in poor quality private homes or rental accommodation where there is little scope to make improvements that those with higher levels of disposable income have access to.
We will take into consideration the need for policy and programs to tackle the disproportionately higher bills for essential services faced by low income households as a result of climate change and work with partners to deliver relief through assistance to become more energy and water efficient no matter where they live.