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Newsletter: May 2020

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From the CEO

Another month has passed and as restrictions ease due to low levels of transmission in our communities, we are beginning to establish a “new normal” while maintaining hygiene and distancing practices.

We cannot forget however that many Australians are continuing to do it tough, with the impact of the pandemic coming on top of drought or bushfires in many areas.

We have some insight into just how hard it is thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), who are collecting information on the effects of COVID-19. For example, almost one third of Australians (31%) in the survey said that their household finances had worsened due to COVID-19 in the period mid-March to mid-April.[1] Over the seven weeks from mid-March to early May, total payroll jobs lost stands at 7.3%, increasing the overall level of unemployment across the country. [2] The ABS data also reveals the extraordinary hit to business, with nearly 70% facing a loss in income and more than 40% expecting a reduced ability to pay operating expenses.[3]

Just as the focus on restoring the economy has resulted in extraordinary responses to exceptional circumstances, we cannot be complacent about the fact that Australian families may be facing serious cost-of-living pressures. We know that for those who are working from home and home-schooling children – throughout autumn and going into winter – energy use is much higher than normal. The information being reported from businesses whose employees use smart meters is that consumption has risen by 20% on average.

We at Energy Consumers Australia continue to ask difficult questions of government and industry. Are those that need help receiving it? Are there gaps in the system? What advice are we giving people about how to manage their winter bills? Are energy retailers letting those people, who might struggle to pay their next bill, know how they can get help?

We acknowledge that there are positive steps being taken towards making sure no-one has to go without the power they need because they can’t pay their bill. A number of governments around the country have increased the assistance they are making available through bill discounts or rebates and have made them simpler to access.

In another positive step, energy retailers are talking to each other about how they can offer a consistent response to the financial stresses people are facing, subject to conditions imposed under an interim authorisation approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). [4] In terms of what is on offer to help people manage their bills we believe we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
 
As well as this, the “poles and wires” electricity businesses in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have voluntarily taken a holiday on payments they are owed by the energy retailers, from 1 April to end June 2020, which can constitute around 40-50% of a customer’s bill. It applies to situations where households are in financial stress, and to small businesses who have had a 75% fall in revenue.

The Australian Energy Regulator has sought to have a similar deferral mechanism put in place for 6 months from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2020.[5] The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) released an Issues Paper on 28 May 2020, and is consulting on the proposed rule change.[6] We have gone on record in supporting this mechanism to defer the network cost pass-through, as it enables energy retailers to “right size” their assistance package to help people who are struggling to pay their bills. [7]

However, for these measures to be effective, people need to know where they can get help. This week the signatories to The Energy Charter launched their We’ve Got You campaign.[8] We have asked that the Australian Government also commit to an awareness campaign so that consumers know that assistance is available if they cannot manage their energy bills.

Now more than ever people need information and tools that work for them in managing the costs of energy in their home and in their business. In May, we launched the website updates around our Power Shift Final Report; the culmination of 3 years of research. This Power Shift research is aimed at helping industry, regulators, community groups and government deliver highly targeted programs and allowing them to find the opportunities to empower consumers.

On a personal note, I haven’t found things slowing down at all since the Energy Consumers Australia team moved to working from home on 20 March 2020. If anything, life seems to have sped up! At work and at home I am finding we are doing more to stay connected and closer as colleagues, as friends, as a family and as a community.

We value our engagement with you, and if you have questions or comments, please connect with us via our social media or reach out through our Share Your Story page here.

Stay safe and well,

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer (Interim)

[1] Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, 14-17 Apr 2020
[2] Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 2 May 2020
[3] Business Indicators, Business Impacts of COVID-19, April 2020
[4] ACCC seeking submissions on authorised conduct.
[5] AER; New Rule to support Electricity Retailers during COVID 19 
[6] AEMC; Deferral of Network Charges, Rule Change
[7] ECA; Rule change must be supported by energy assistance campaign,
[8] Energy Charter We’ve Got You campaign


News

Power Shift Final Report and accompanying resources are now live on our website

Energy services need to be individualised with information, tools and assistance that suit the circumstances and lifestyle of each household. Power Shift is a body of research which provides decision makers with evidence on which to build better-targeted and more effective, and innovative energy management services and programs that deliver outcomes for consumers. 

Learn about the key findings of the research and how energy companies, government, policymakers, regulators and industry can find the opportunities to empower consumers here.

More news


Publications

Submission on the Independent Review of the Energy Security Board

The next iteration of the ESB should reflect its evolving energy transition task, which goes beyond maintaining the security and reliability of the energy system. That is creating an environment where trusted new energy services can emerge that meet the needs and expectations of Australian household and small business energy consumers between now and 2050 in line with emissions reductions commitments. Read our full submission here.

More publications


Key Dates

Consumer Data Right Online Forum: June 9th 10am – 12pm

With Treasury consulting on the draft designation instrument for the CDR for Energy, we are getting to the point where significant CDR implementation issues are starting to be made. Representatives of Treasury, the ACCC, AEMO and the Data Standards Body (Data61) will be briefing advocates on what these decisions cover and how they will be made. Advocates who have joined previous CDR consultations have been sent direct notifications. Other advocates interested in attending should email David Havyatt at before 5pm on June 5th.

Briefing on the AER Actionable ISP Guidelines: June 10th 10am – 11am

The AER is consulting on its draft Actionable ISP Guidelines and holding a stakeholder webinar on 4 June. Following on from a consumer forum in January, ECA has arranged an additional briefing for consumer advocates. Participants in the January forum have been sent direct invitations. Other advocates interested in attending should email David Havyatt at before 5pm on June 5th.

NewReg public online forum: Late June – date and time TBC

The NewReg project trial with AusNet has reached an important milestone with the release of the Customer Forums final engagement report and the submission of AusNet’s proposal. The NewReg project team is planning to hold a public online forum in late June to review preliminary conclusions about the NewReg model based on the trial. If you are interested in joining that forum or project please ensure you register your interest

Energy Network Industry Awards application open date: July 1st 

Applications for the 2020 Energy Consumers Australia Energy Network Consumer Engagement Award which we present in partnership with Energy Networks Australia will officially open from July 1st.This award recognises an Australian energy network business that demonstrates outstanding leadership in consumer engagement. Further details can be seen here.

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