A third of all households have an electricity retailer that doesn’t meet minimum standards

For several years Anglican Advocacy worked with people struggling with their power bill. Pretty simple, we tried to make sure they were on the right electricity plan, which resulted in savings of up to $60 a month!

It was frustrating and time consuming, and work that shouldn’t be needed since putting struggling customers on the best available plan is a requirement of the Consumer Care Guidelines.

The Guidelines are there to protect people, because electricity is an essential service that impacts on health and wellbeing. The people who run electricity companies helped design and signed up to the guidelines. But they are not mandatory because those same people, at those same electricity companies, assured the board of the Electrical Authority that they would voluntarily follow them. No need to make them mandatory.

The board of the Electrical Authority has now released a report that shows the Guidelines are not being followed.

Working alongside budget advisors and foodbanks means I already knew the guidelines were not being followed. But the report reveals concerns wider than just for vulnerable consumers. A third of all homes are paying retailers that do not meet agreed minimum standards. For many they will not become aware of that until they need help. All too easy with cost of living as it is.

As alarming as that is, it’s possible the size of the problem is way bigger. The Electrical Authority is basing their findings entirely on self-assessment by the electricity companies.

Imagine if Customs or WorkSafe took a similar approach. Self-assessment only, no need to check. “Anything to declare? No? Good enough for us.”

Social service agencies and consumer groups were invited to take part in writing the Guidelines. Why would the EA not also pro-actively seek our input on whether the Guidelines were being followed and how our clients are being treated by their electricity companies?

What needs to change?

1: Make the Consumer Care Guidelines mandatory. Half of all retailers supplying to a third of all households are not meeting the minimum guidelines. Alarmingly, one area of non-compliance is the section dealing with medically dependant and vulnerable customers.

2: Ban disconnection and reconnection fees. If a family is struggling to keep the lights and heating on, adding more debt is stupid. It is already too expensive to be poor in Aotearoa

3: Report auto-disconnections from Pre-Pay meters. Electricity companies try to call these self-disconnections and claim reporting these disconnections is not necessary. Families are usually not on pre-pay by choice, but because they are vulnerable and struggling to pay.

The Electricity Authority has new powers and responsibility to look after customers. They cannot do that if they don’t know how many whanau are being disconnected.

4: Make pre-pay pricing plans as cheap as the cheapest available post-pay plan. If you cannot get a contract because you have struggled to pay your power bill, making the only option left more expensive is exploitation.

How to Help

The Electrical Authority wants more evidence that retailers not following the Guidelines causes harm.

We are gathering stories to as evidence for the Authority (consulting in September)

If you have any experience of hardship or stress with the cost of your electricity, send us your story.

  • Had trouble paying and didn’t get help from your retailer
  • Can’t see on your bill what plan you are on
  • Didn’t have your retailer discuss the price plan you are on to see if there was a cheaper option
  • Couldn’t understand what they were saying to you
  • Have never heard from your retailer how using your electricity differently could save you money
  • Have gone from bad to worse when additional fees were added to your debt

Feel free to send any story about dealing with your retailer. We can have a look and see if they failed the guidelines in how they treated you.