In the past two years we have seen an unprecedented number of customer switches between retailers taking place within the electricity market specifically the small commercial market.
As the market has become more fluid over the last 2-3 years with the introduction of ASX Energy Futures, it has opened the door to more retailer options or “second tier” retailers where generation is not required for companies to on sell energy to customers. Some of these companies have a very small amount of generation underpinning their retail business however they can grow market share through ASX purchases. The increase of retail participants such as Flick Energy, MegaTel, Prime Energy, Pulse Energy, Switch Utilities and Utilise but to name a few, overall market competitiveness has seen switching trends rising annually between 2009 and 2015. With an expanding retail market it is important for customers to know that all retailers must comply with the Electricity and Gas Complaints Authority (EGCC) and that consumers have a number of guaranteed rights when dealing with their utility suppliers.
The below graphic shows total monthly switches that have taken place from 2004 to 2015. We can see from 2009 switching trends rising to double the number of monthly switches seen in the previous 5 years from 2009.
As a result customers are reporting that they are increasingly confident in a competitive energy market place as outlined in the below graphic.
With the advent of new energy retailer companies and various product offerings it is important that customers understand their rights if a dispute arises.
Picking the winners
There have been clear winners amongst the various retailers in the switching war we have seen over the past two-three years, who have capitalised on customers desire to seek out the “best offer” available in the market, while other retailers have struggled to keep up the pace in the increasing competitiveness of the market.
While past trends have showed retailers using high credits to entice customer to switch to them, the new “trend” we can observe in the market place is to offer high prompt payment discounts, with highly competitive rates, provided the customer locks in for a two/three year term with fixed pricing on the retailer (contestable) portion of the rates.
Small commercial customers have typically preferred to go for uncontracted offers in the past however more and more customers are seeing the benefits of securing good deals in a competitive market by locking into fixed pricing for a 24 or 36 month term.
With this in mind once a retailer has been able to win a customer, they must be able to provide a high quality level of service, while still offering the best deal possible. Ultimately the greatest test of a retailer’s service is how they deal with difficult situations and complaints that can arise within the customer-retailer relationship.
Resolving Disputes: Your Rights with the EGCC
Aside from getting a better deal, the other main reason customers will switch from their incumbent supplier is due to dissatisfaction with the current service they are receiving. Service offered between retailers will differ given different billing systems, procedures and organisational culture unique to each retailer.
When it comes to the handling of complaints or disputes there is a set process that all retailers and lines companies must follow as they are all members of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission (EGCC). It is important to highlight that most retailer standard terms and conditions require that any line item charge that is not in dispute is required to be paid by the due date of any invoice.
One of the most frustrating parts of having a complaint for customers is the time it can take for this to be resolved, sometimes weeks or even months. It is important to be aware of the fact that retailers have set time standards in which disputes should be resolved, outlined below:
- Retailer is to acknowledge your complain in writing within 2 working days (excluding delivery time.
- Retailer will respond to you within 7 working days to inform you of the steps they will take to reach a resolution.
- Retailer will attempt to resolve your complaint within 20 working days. In cases where it may take up to 40 working days to resolve they must explain in writing why it will require more time to resolve.
Under the EGCC scheme a complaint is considered to have reached “deadlock” if:
- It has taken longer than 20 working days to resolve the complaint and the customer was not notified in writing that they have good reason to extend the time for resolving the complaint; or
- It has taken longer than 40 working days to resolve the complaint; or
The EGCC is satisfied that:
- The retailer has made it clear they intend to do nothing about the complaint
- You (as the complainant) would suffer unreasonable harm from waiting longer, or
- It would be otherwise unjust to wait any longer.
If you are dealing with a complaint and you believe it has reached “deadlock” stage it is important to raise this with the EGCC within 2 months from when you consider it to have reached “deadlock” stage.
What can the EGCC look into?
The EGCC can look into almost any complaint about an electricity or gas company, with common complaints being around bills, meters, disconnections, and damage to property. The EGCC can also be used for complaints about the actions of staff or contractors while on land, as well as access to and use of land on which there is electricity or gas equipment.
The EGCC can also check if a company has provided accurate information about its tariffs and applied them correctly, but cannot look at complaints about the level of pricing for electricity or gas.
Once the EGCC has been approached about a deadlocked complaint they will act as a conciliator between you and the company with the aim of reaching an agreement on a fair and reasonable outcome for the dispute. As part of this process it could include:
- Taking part in a teleconference with the retailer and an EGCC conciliator
- The EGCC seeking expert advice about technical or legal issues
- Investigating the facts of the complaint – the EGCC will seek information about what happened from you and the retailer
Once their investigation is complete the EGCC will provide a summary of facts and its recommended resolution to the complaint to both the customer and the retailer.
Resolution and Settlement in the EGCC Process
If you as the customer accept the recommended resolution as full and final settlement but the retailer does not, the Commissioner can make the decision binding on the retailer. If you do not accept the recommended resolution then the complaint is considered closed and you will need to take the complaint to another forum such as the District Court or, if the company is a state owned enterprise, the Office of the Ombudsman.
While it is hugely advantageous for customers having the EGCC as an available forum for resolving disputes it is important to be aware of the fact that this process can take several months to reach completion which can be costly in terms of time spent in discussion with all parties involved and can be very frustrating at times dealing with the constant back and forth between each party. Particularly for large corporate businesses the cost of time spent can be several thousands of dollars in lost time of staff dealing with the process.
Who can help?
With these facts in mind it is highly advantageous to have industry experts like Total Utilities advocating on your behalf to navigate through this process which will save you both time and money having to deal with the process for you.
Typically complaints start of as small issues which go unnoticed which grow into big problems. Businesses can circumvent these issues by being signed up as a managed service client with Total Utilities as we will monitor your monthly invoices, cost and usage and reporting this to you in highly useful report summaries each month. As part of this process we proactively identify potential issues and resolve these immediately with the retailer ensuring minimal disruption to your utility accounts.
If you would like more information on having your utility accounts managed by Total Utilities please call us on +64 9 576 2107 or email at [email protected] to speak to an industry expert.
1 Source: Electricity Authority
2 Source: Energynews, 2014 – http://www.energynews.co.nz/news-story/17105/consumers-show-increased-confidence-retailer-competitiveness
3 Source: EGCC Annual Report 2014-2015 – http://www.egcomplaints.co.nz/media/248011/egcc.ar.15.final.pdf